Livestrong, Sporting KC divorce already ugly
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — On the surface, it was the consummate marriage, a fairy-tale wedding of the perfect power couple. The rising, smart, scrappy soccer club with the beautiful building in one corner, and the uber-hip charity with the superstar figurehead in the other.
But like a lot of celebrity marriages, the one between Sporting KC and the Livestrong Foundation burned hot, burned fast and — in the last day or so — has apparently burned out.
In an ESPN report published Tuesday, a Livestrong official claimed that the MLS club had only paid $250,000 of the $1 million it owed the foundation in 2012. Sporting, which plays in LIVESTRONG Sporting Park (now simply called Sporting Park), responded with a written statement in which it even sounded a bit like a jilted lover:
"This morning we were disappointed to learn Livestrong is utilizing aggressive tactics designed to force us into an unsatisfactory arrangement," it read. "We willingly admit we were not expecting the foundation to treat a partner in this manner. Even more surprising is that Livestrong would take this action in the midst of a significant transitional phase for their organization Our faith and trust in this partnership have been permanently damaged; therefore we are terminating our agreement with Livestrong, effectively immediately."
They weren't joking about the "immediately" part, either. As of Tuesday night, the website livestrongsportingpark.com was apparently kaput, with the traditional content having been replaced by a “This page is temporarily unavailable” notice.
Ever since Armstrong's house of cards began toppling at breakneck speed, a split between Kansas City's MLS franchise and Armstrong's former charity seemed inevitable. There had been rumors of a stadium name change floating for months — although, publicly, the club expressed loyalty to its six-year Livestrong contract at nearly every turn. Last October, when the US Anti-Doping Agency lifted the curtain on Armstrong's sordid activities and banned him from cycling for life, Sporting kept a brave face.
Even as recently as last Thursday, as word surfaced that Armstrong was planning on going public with his sins to Oprah Winfrey, franchise CEO Robb Heineman remained steadfast. When asked if the team would seek to distance itself from the charity, Heineman told FOX Sports Kansas City.com:
"Oh, I don't know. I hope it's called ‘LIVESTRONG’ forever,” referring to the name on the stadium.
Well, by forever, he apparently meant five more days.
"I don't think it would be anything sort of that specific in nature," Heineman continued when asked about changing the name of the club's $200 million soccer park. "Like I said, it's nothing to rush into from our perspective.
"And the thing that we're committed to is the vision of what Livestrong’s about — and that's helping people afflicted with cancer. So that's the piece of all this that, regardless of what happens, is something that we'll remain very committed to, going forward."
Sporting KC partnered with Livestrong in March 2011 with the intent of donating $7.5 million to the foundation — including portions of the team's ticket, souvenir and concession sales — over the life of the contract.
"We did our relationship with Livestrong for a very specific set of reasons," Heineman allowed. "It was our belief in that mission. While a lot of things around that situation are unfortunate — I mean, it's not a good deal, what's going on (with) that situation right now — it's something that we would think through very carefully and closely before we did anything. Because the thing that's more important to us about all this is what goes on inside the stadium and the fans that fill it.
"And so that's what we want to be the focus of what we do; not anything external to that. So nothing's imminent, but it's obviously an ongoing relationship that we have with the foundation all the time, (as to) what's the best next step for us as a partnership."
Apparently, that step is a divorce. And, just like the celebrity kind, this one has the potential to get rather ugly in a hurry.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org