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Jan 16, 2013

Livestrong, Sporting KC sever ties

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- 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 says the decision came after ESPN's Darren Rovell reported Livestrong said Sporting still owed the cancer charity $750,000 for 2012. Sources said Livestrong's communication noted that failure to make the foundation whole within two weeks would result in the charity severing the deal.

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. "It wasn't about answering questions about what Lance did or didn't do."

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."

Armstrong resigned from the board of directors for Livestrong in November after a report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency accused the cyclist of helping run "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen" within his U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams.

Armstrong had persistently denied doping until this week when he admitted to Oprah Winfrey he used performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career, which included seven straight Tour de France victories. The first installment of the two-part interview airs Thursday night.

Greg Lee, chief financial officer for Livestrong, said in an emailed statement that it was the charity that terminated the agreement with Sporting KC, and the foundation doesn't discuss specifics about arrangements with its partners. He said his role is "to ensure compliance by our corporate partners."

"If a partner doesn't live up to the terms of our agreement, we have no choice but to bring that agreement to an end," he said.

Foundation spokeswoman Katherine McLane also said while Livestrong "did not receive a significant portion of the revenues it was promised, it still invested nearly $40,000 in programs to serve people affected by cancer," at several Kansas City area institutions. McLane also said in an email that Livestrong will continue to invest such programs in the Kansas City area.

Sporting Park is scheduled to host the MLS All-Star game on July 31.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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