Kansas City, Kan. The loss of trust — not money or a tarnished reputation — led Sporting KC to sever ties with the cancer charity founded by Lance Armstrong, according to a team official.
But Sporting KC chief executive Robb Heineman also said Wednesday the “tumultuous environment” that developed before the cyclist admitted using performance enhancing drugs also played into the Major League Soccer team’s decision to end the relationship.
“The severance for us was about violating the trust of a partnership. That’s what they did. Does Lance bleed over into that? Certainly,” Heineman said. “Whether anyone wants to say it or not, he’s connected to the foundation. He’s why we have to always answer questions around him. ... It’s something you can’t get away from.”
Sporting KC announced Tuesday the team was changing the name of Livestrong Sporting Park to Sporting Park and ending its novel arrangement with the charity that began in 2011.
Under the naming rights deal, Livestrong didn’t pay to have its name on the $200 million soccer stadium in Kansas City, Kan. Instead, the team promised to donate $7.5 million in stadium revenues to Livestrong over six years.
Heineman said the decision came after ESPN reported that Livestrong recently said Sporting still owed $750,000 of the $1 million promised to the foundation in 2012. Heineman said the team doesn’t owe Livestrong any money, but he would not discuss the contract.
“When they started to, for the lack of a better term, start to drag us through the mud a little bit in public around the relationship, that’s just nothing we have an interest in,” Heineman said. “I would call it inaccurate, unfair and a breach of confidentiality. I think that’s at the core of any of this.”
But he said it’s difficult to parse how much the loss of trust in Livestrong because of the contract discussion in the media and Armstrong’s doping admission played into the end the partnership.
“It’s a hard thing to say because one is so connected to the other,” he said. “If this would just have been about Lance and his reputation would we have made the same decision at some point? Potentially. Potentially.
“Because what this has begun to do over time as I mentioned to you is erode the focus of what we and the partnership were all about,” he said.
Heineman said Sporting and Livestrong had discussions for several months about their partnership but would not go into detail about those discussions.
“I think as the tension and as the tumultuous environment continued to kind of surround Livestrong, we kept working with them around how can we modify things,” Heineman said. “I think that what we saw was the brand was evolving .... And for us the vision of Livestrong always was it was going to be much bigger than one person.”