Kansas City, Kan. Until Monday, I always thought nobody ever had crushed a ball farther out of the park with a stadium naming than the New York Yankees when they branded their spring training home Legends Field.
Now it ranks no better than second place, and a distant second at that.
Sporting Kansas City will hold its home soccer matches at Livestrong Sporting Park, so christened at a Tuesday announcement in which world-famous cyclist and testicular cancer survivor Lance Armstrong participated.
Now, all who attend a Major League Soccer match or a concert at the $200-million, under-construction, state-of-the-art stadium, will think about a loved one stung by cancer.
Normally, ownership groups put naming rights up for auction. In this case, the money’s going in the other direction. A portion of ticket and concession revenues will be sent to Livestrong, Armstrong’s charitable cancer-fighting foundation. Robb Heineman, president of Sporting KC, said he expects as much as $10 million to be raised for the Austin, Texas-based charity during the six-year agreement.
That’s not the only interesting anti-cancer wrinkle here. No tobacco products are allowed in the stadium or outside it.
The brand Livestrong, the word that appears on more than 70 million yellow bracelets throughout the world, has left many wondering about its origin.
“We went around the world and interviewed thousands of cancer survivors and we asked them to tell us their story, tell us about your struggle, tell us about what you’ve dealt with, what you’re thinking,” Armstrong said.
So they did.
“We listened to these stories, thousands of them, and at the end of it all we came up with the idea that these people understand what it means to live strong,” Armstrong said. “It became the name. It went on the band. It became the brand, and it is now going to be on the outside of the stadium.”
Livestrong president and CEO Doug Ulman also attended the announcement. Then 19 and playing soccer at Brown University in 1997, Ulman was diagnosed with a form of cancer known as chondrosarcoma. Armstrong sent him an e-mail offering to help. Ulman wasn’t familiar with the name then. They became e-mail friends for a couple of years and Armstrong invited him to Austin, Texas to work for him.
Ulman can’t wait to attend a soccer match at Livestrong Sporting Park.
“The seating bowl is right on top of the field,” Ulman gushed. “The quality of the viewing angles is second to none. The technology, the field itself ... I think the players are going to leave thinking it’s the best stadium they’ve played in.”
Livestrong Sporting Park is scheduled to open June 9, when the Chicago Fire battles Sporting KC and cancer.