Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Living with Lance – the Livestrong aftermath

Earlier this week the International Olympic Committee announced they are considering stripping of the bronze medal Lance Armstrong won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In the last month Lance Armstrong has lost the seven Tour de France titles he won, lost all of his sponsors, resigned as the chairman of Livestrong the charity he founded and lost tens of millions of dollars.

While Armstrong no longer enjoys partnerships with Nike, Oakley and his once impressive roster of sponsors, organizations and groups linked to Livestrong are looking at their future relationship with Armstrong’s foundation with an eye on Sporting KC. The Lance Armstrong Foundation according to the organization`s website: unites, inspires and empowers people affected by cancer.

Livestrong Sporting Park is a soccer-specific stadium in Kansas City, Kansas, US, and is the home of Sporting Kansas City. The stadium opened during the 2011 season of Major League Soccer on June 9, 2011 with a match against the Chicago Fire.[7] The stadium has a seating capacity of 18,467 seats, which can expand to 25,000 for concerts. On March 8, 2011 a partnership with Lance Armstrong's Livestrong foundation was announced. The club agreed to donate a portion of revenues, no less than $7.5 million, to the foundation over the course of six years of the agreement, now ending its second year.

In an editorial that appeared in The Kansas City Star this week, the paper asked the question:” Livestrong issue still looms for Sporting KC officials”.

Kansas City’s MLS franchise hosted the Houston Dynamo in game two of their two game (total goals) eastern semi-final Wednesday night. The organization has made tremendous strides on the soccer pitch and as a result success off the field. Sporting KC’s relationship with Livestrong is important to the team’s business plan.

The naming rights agreement remains one of the more unique sports partnerships in the industry. For the most part stadium and arena naming rights agreements include a company paying the sports a rights fee to have their name affixed to the arena or stadium. Met Life is paying the New York Giants and New York Jets stadium consortium upwards of $20 million annually. What makes Sporting KC and Livestrong’s agreement unique the soccer team is paying Livestrong a fee for the right to link their organization to the Livestrong brand. Sporting KC is foregoing millions of dollars believing instead greater benefits are being accrued in their association with Lance Armstrong and his foundation.

“LIVESTRONG is honored to bring its mission to Kansas City through LIVESTRONG Sporting Park,” Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, champion cyclist and LIVESTRONG founder and chairman offered on March 11, 2011 when the agreement was announced. “Professional sports provide a powerful vehicle to affect positive change in the world. LIVESTRONG’s partnership with Sporting Club gives us an innovative opportunity to advance the cancer fight in this region and we are eager to get started.”

“Sports are a unifying force in bringing people together,” said Doug Ulman, LIVESTRONG president and CEO when the deal was unveiled. “LIVESTRONG Sporting Park is more than just a stadium – it’s the first athletic venue in the world with a social change mission and offers an ideal arena to champion the cancer cause.”

“Sports are a unifying force in bringing people together,” said Doug Ulman, LIVESTRONG president and CEO. “LIVESTRONG Sporting Park is more than just a stadium – it’s the first athletic venue in the world with a social change mission and offers an ideal arena to champion the cancer cause.”

As was the case in March 2011 when the agreement was announced: the Lance Armstrong Foundation continually seeks out innovative business strategies and partnerships that will further its mission to serve people affected by cancer and empower them to take action. LIVESTRONG’s sporting and athletic heritage make for a natural partnership with Sporting Club and provide a unique opportunity for these organizations to spread cancer awareness throughout the Kansas City community.

“We're proud of Kansas City's history as a philanthropic leader and we believe that this innovative partnership continues that legacy,” said Robb Heineman, CEO of Sporting Club. “The fight against cancer is being waged around the world, every hour of every day. So while the fight doesn’t take time out for entertainment, LIVESTRONG Sporting Park provides each of us with the opportunity to stay involved in the cause and celebrate many of those things worth fighting for – the support of community, the thrill of victory and events that bring us all together.”

All of those sentiments aside – the world of Lance Armstrong changed forever on August 24, 2012 when while not admitting guilt that he had used performance enhancement drugs while winning seven Tour de France titles Armstrong announced he would no longer fight allegations the USDA accused him of. In less than two months Armstrong’s reputation is gone. He is no longer Livestrong’s Chairman. Sporting KC has to be wondering what their future is with Livestrong.

The Kansas City Star editorial raises several important questions the ownership group needs to consider.

“The easy thing would’ve been for Sporting to walk away from Livestrong already. But if nothing else, a willingness to wait this long indicates a willingness to go against making the PR-approved, masses-pleasing move of renaming the stadium.

“By waiting until after the season — which could be as soon as Thursday, or perhaps not for another three weeks, after Livestrong enjoys exposure all the way through the MLS Cup championship — ownership creates a better environment for a thoughtful decision.

“As long as Livestrong holds up its end of the bargain by continuing a mission that’s beyond reproach — even beyond Armstrong’s despicable record of lies and bullying in the cycling world — then abandoning the cause now would be cowardly and counterproductive.” according to the Kansas City Star November 6, 2012 Op-Ed piece.

There is a great deal at stake in whatever decision the MLS franchise makes. The Star reported that “Every member of the ownership group has been significantly touched by cancer — and one is living that impact today with the diagnosis of a close family member.” The decision will be both personal and professional.

The question the ownership needs to ask is twofold.

Is Livestrong’s name being on the soccer stadium hurting the ability to raise cancer awareness and fundraising dollars in the Kansas City area?

And almost as important is being associated with Livestrong doing damage or harm to Sporting KC’s brand name?

Those questions can only be answered once the soccer team determines how closely they believe Livestrong is linked to Lance Armstrong. Are they one and the same? Lance Armstrong has earned the wrath and anger of the corporate sector and hundreds of millions for what he has done. The question that has yet to be answered is, are the names Lance Armstrong and Livestrong really one brand name? How important is Sporting KC’s decision – it could set the table for how and what companies do moving forward with Livestrong.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

Labels: , , , , , ,