0

Nike drops partnership with Lance Armstrong-founded charity

The Livestrong Foundation, the cancer charity founded by disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, said on Tuesday it has lost the sponsorship of Nike Inc., its biggest corporate backer and creator of its well-known yellow wristbands.

Armstrong founded Livestrong in 1997 after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and the group flourished during his cycling career, which saw him win the grueling Tour de France race seven times.

The cyclist stepped down from Livestrong after being stripped of his titles last fall amid accusations that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

"We expected changes like this," Katherine McLane, a Livestrong spokeswoman, said in a conference call with reporters of the decision by Nike. "We are not the organization that we were a year ago."

She described the foundation as being in a "rebuilding" mode.

"Could there be fallout? Of course," she said. "We remain enormously confident. ... We are in strong fiscal shape."

Nike, which has helped support the foundation since 2004, helped raise more than $100 million through creation of the group's distinctive yellow wristbands and production of Livestrong apparel and footwear, the spokeswoman said.

Nike said it would end production of its Livestrong gear and apparel after the holiday 2013 line but would continue to support the foundation by funding it directly.

Livestrong said the contract with Nike was set to conclude at the end of 2014 and will not be renewed, and she said the impact had been factored into the foundation's fiscal outlook.

"We hoped a change like this wouldn't occur but certainly planned for it," McLane said. "There will be no immediate financial effect."

Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the charity in October. Nike said at that time that it would still back the charity but no longer sponsor the man behind it.

"Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him," the company said at the time.

Nike will benefit from distancing itself from the charity and from the scandal-stained athlete, said Robert Boland, a professor of sport management at New York University's Tisch Center.

"Their relationship with Livestrong was so based on Lance Armstrong and his story that it's almost impossible to separate them from a branding standpoint," Boland said.

"The chief thing that is motivating Nike is they're looking to move on and put their years with Lance Armstrong behind them."

Nike said more than 87 million of the foundation's well-known wristbands have been distributed since their inception.

Austin, Texas-based Livestrong said in a statement that "this news will prompt some to jump to negative conclusions about the foundation's future. We see things quite differently."

Armstrong in January finally admitted that he had used performance-enhancing drugs after years of denial. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, he said having to sever ties with Livestrong was his "most humbling moment."

Last month, the U.S. government filed court documents laying out a case against Armstrong, who is accused of defrauding the U.S. Postal Service by taking millions of dollars in sponsorship money while flouting professional cycling rules by doping.

Armstrong and his teammates were paid $40 million by the Postal Service from 1998 to 2004, according to the government's suit. Armstrong's salary during that time, excluding bonuses, was $17.9 million, according to the complaint.