Sporting Kansas City and Livestrong Part Ways, with Both Sides Alleging Different Reasons, Neither of Which Is the One You’d Expect

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Both Sporting Kansas City and the Livestrong charitable foundation made separate announcements this week saying that they’ve terminated their naming-rights agreement for the MLS club’s stadium in Kansas City, Kansas, less than two years after the deal was struck.

According to Livestrong CFO Greg Lee, who spoke to Fox and ESPN, the decision was due to non-payment of funds by SKC, a detail he divulged while pretending not to divulge it:

“While we don’t talk about the specifics related to any of our partners, part of my role as the chief financial officer is to ensure compliance by our corporate partners. We strive to be great partners ourselves and expect the same from those we do business with. If a partner is struggling to meet the terms of our agreement, we do everything possible to reach a fair and reasonable compromise. If no compromise can be reached, as good stewards or our brand and mission, we have no choice but to bring that agreement to an end.”

On the other side of the dispute, Sporting Kansas City CEO Robb Heineman denied the club owed any money and expressed a disillusionment with the partnership:

“Our faith and trust in this partnership have been permanently damaged; therefore we are terminating our agreement with LIVESTRONG, effectively immediately. As a result of this decision, our stadium will now be referred to as Sporting Park. While we are ending this relationship, our support of the fight against cancer will endure. We look forward to introducing new initiatives to assist these efforts in Kansas City.”

In the entire exchange, there was only one, glancing reference to the yellow-shirted elephant in the room—the recent revelations about performance-enhancing drug use by Lance Armstrong, and the former cyclists’s own Oprah-administered confession. Here’s that reference, from Heineman:

“We are disappointed to learn Livestrong is deploying tactics designed to force us into an unacceptable arrangement, after months of good faith discussions in which we believed progress had been made. We were not expecting the foundation to treat a partner in this manner, especially given the tumultuous environment they have thrust us into over the past year—while we staunchly defended the mission of the foundation.”

That last “while we staunchly defended the mission of the foundation” has gotta hurt a little. But apparently, the timing is just coincidental. The dispute appears to be over money and the terms of the arrangement, and not the disgraced legacy of Armstrong.

But that can’t have helped, right?

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Stadium Sparkles, Game Fizzles in Livestrong Sporting Park Opener

Watching last night’s historic home opener for Sporting Kansas City, we were reminded of something Billy Bob Thornton said in Bad Santa: “They can’t all be winners, can they?”

After spectacular stadium openers in Vancouver and Portland earlier this season, we got a dud of a game in the debut of Livestrong Sporting Park. While the stadium looked terrific, the two bottom-sitting teams in the Eastern Conference, SKC and Chicago, played to a choppy 0-0 draw.

Both sides entered the game with just one win on the season, prompting many observers to say that something had to give last night. Surprise: nothing gave—though something probably should have in the 85th minute, when Kansas City’s Omar Bravo was scythed down in the Chicago box:

ESPN announcers John Harkes and Adrian Healey claim that the referee got it right, but we beg to differ. Chicago defender Bratislav Ristic may have gotten some ball there, but he definitely clipped Bravo’s foot on arrival.

Put it this way, if the ref had given a penalty, would anyone have complained? No. And the home crowd would have gone home happy—doubly so since KC was playing with 10 men at the time of the above challenge.

Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen had been red-carded in the 67th minute for handling the ball outside the box while stopping a Dominic Oduro breakaway. Nielsen was the last man back, and the ref had no choice but to send him off.

KC had a goal by midfielder Graham Zusi called back for a close offside in the 15th minute, and later in the opening half, Zusi struck a fizzing drive just over Chicago keeper Sean Johnson’s crossbar.

But nobody found the back of the net, and the draw extended both teams’ winless streaks into double digits.

(Sidenote: the U.S. will play Guadeloupe at Livestrong Sporting Park on Tues., June 14—9:00 ET, Fox Soccer Channel. Check out this edition of MLS’s The Daily for a glimpse at some of the slick details inside Kansas City’s new stadium.)

Livestrong Sporting Park Opens Tonight

And not a moment to soon for the home team. Sporting Kansas City were burdened with a 10-game road trip to start the season while workers finished up their $200-million soccer-specific stadium, and it was a rough ride.

They went 1-6-3 and sit dead last in the Eastern Conference on the night they finally open their brand-new home, which is sponsored by former cyclist Lance Armstrong‘s cancer-fighting organization.

Kansas City will also be without Craig Rocastle (Grenada), Roger Espinoza (Honduras), Stephane Auvray (Guadeloupe), and Shavar Thomas (Jamaica) due to international duty—and first choice goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is unavailable due to illness.

Yes, it’s been a tough couple of months for SKC. But they can take heart in the boost they’ll surely get from the occasion, the crowd, and the fact that their opponents are the eighth-place Chicago Fire (1-4-7), who are just four points ahead of Kansas City in the standings despite having played two more games.

Whatever the challenges, though, it’s undoubtedly a must-win game for coach Peter Vermes’s team. As club CEO Robb Heineman told the league website:

“It’s a massive game. It’s the biggest game in the history of the franchise since we’ve owned it. It’s not MLS Cup. It’s not a US Open Cup final. But it’s right there, number three probably in the history of the franchise. We’ve got to win. Everybody knows that. It’s a big summer for us.”

Most of that summer will play out in the state-of-the-art confines of Livestrong Sporting Park, where 17 of Kansas City’s remaining 24 games will take place.

The field is natural grass, and the stadium has a capacity of 18,500, expandable to 25,000 if needed. There are luxury boxes, field level seats, and two massive HD video screens. The two-story Victory Suite contains a pizza oven where fans can pick their own ingredients, and a well-stocked wine cellar.

Membership in the team’s Sporting Club is free, and all those who join will have access to the Members’ Club section of the stadium, where they can get a beer, burger, and a bag of chips for $5.

SKC has sold more than 11,000 season tickets to the new venue.

Click here for a virtual tour of the stadium.

Tonight’s game is on ESPN2 at 10:00 p.m. ET.