Lance Armstrong’s latest victim? Why Sporting KC no longer Livestrong | Elliott Turner
Sporting Kansas City's stadium-naming saga is a bizarre tale of local politics and unlikely altruism that has ended in acrimony with Lance Armstrong's Livestrong charity
Remember when communities named stadiums after human beings, not corporate sponsors?
The history of stadium naming rights is as messy as the actual business side of it. Some claim it started with Fenway Park in 1912; others point to Wrigley Field in 1926. Regardless, sometime after the second world war, sports "franchises" started to prod local communities for stadium funds, refuse to commit long-term and then profit from selling the public/private stadium's name.
In 2011, Sporting Kansas City opened a soccer-specific stadium. Afterwards, they named it Livestrong Sporting Park. It was a decision they would soon regret.
First, some background. As any fan of college basketball (or any Civil War buff) knows, a bit of rivalry exists between the states of Kansas and Missouri. Sporting KC originally planned to build a new stadium in Missouri, but then the financial crisis hit. The developer asked for more financing from Kansas City, Missouri, the city declined, and the developer brokered a deal with Wyandotte County and the state of Kansas.
Seen in the worst light, some might think that Sporting KC played state and local communities like a fiddle, to get a sweeter deal. However, Sporting KC committed to the Wyandotte construction before the bonds were approved and even had construction equipment on the site before the vote. In the best light, Sporting KC's owners were desperate to get a large stadium project done during a recession.
In March 2011, Sporting KC brokered a naming-rights deal with the Livestrong Foundation, a nonprofit that supports cancer research. Livestrong was then closely tied to Lance Armstrong, a world famous cyclist who won seven Tour de France titles after recovering from cancer. Granted, there were clouds on the horizon – Armstrong was dogged by rumours of doping. Still, this wasn't a stadium named after an insider-trading bank, and even cynics like me couldn't object to a link with an anti-cancer foundation.
A year later, the US Anti-Doping Agency launched an investigation, accusing Armstrong of doping. He did not contest it, and Wada stripped him of all his titles. Sponsors dropped him – but Sporting KC stood by their link with Livestrong.
Then, on Oprah's couch last week, Armstrong confessed to doping. However, the confession came after years of lawsuits and public denials and counter-accusations. Can he be forgiven? Should he?
Sporting KC's Livestrong Stadium dilemma harked back to the old days of stadiums. Yes, the KC stadium was named after a foundation, but everybody associated that foundation with Lance Armstrong, the cancer survivor and champion athlete. Now, only one of those titles was true. Sporting KC and Livestrong issued press releases. Sporting KC said "trust" had been "permanently damaged"; Livestrong said Sporting had only paid $250,000 of $1m it owed.
And that's where things got even stickier. Owed? Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't teams sell stadium naming rights to garner profit, not increase liabilities?
Not in this case. As part of the deal, Sporting KC had promised to donate a portion of their revenues to the foundation – no less than $7.5m over six years. Wyandotte County bondholders rest assured... your investment was actually paying somebody to buy naming rights on a stadium. Just as you envisioned.
On the plus side, this odd arrangement has now come to an end. Even better, the stadium will be named Sporting Park. A stadium named after its professional team? In the United States? In the same town as the tenant-less Sprint Center? Yessir. At least for now. In a few years, Sporting may change their name to the Wiz, the Wizards or maybe even the Spurs. Until then, bask in the exception: Sporting KC have a lovely stadium with none of the corporate hangover.
Elliott Turner blogs about soccer at futfanatico.com
Filed under: Euro 2012
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