Nike chooses to sever its ties with Livestrong

Updated: 29 May 2013 15:11 IST

Lance Armstrong, who started the cancer foundation Livestrong, had already lost his personal endorsement deal after admitting he had used performance-enhancing drugs

Nike stuck by Tiger Woods in the wake of his infidelity and gave Michael Vick an endorsement deal after Vick had served time in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring, which included killing dogs that underperformed.

But this week, the company emphasized that there is one transgression it cannot tolerate: cheating.

In the wake of Lance Armstrong's admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs to win his record seven Tour de France titles, Nike took another step back from Armstrong and announced that it would stop manufacturing Livestrong-brand shoes and apparel at the end of this year.

Nike, Livestrong's main corporate backer, will continue to fulfill its financial obligations to Livestrong, the cancer foundation started by Armstrong, through 2014 but will not renew the partnership, Livestrong said.

"Considering what the foundation had been through recently and the significant changes that have occurred, of course, the foundation's leadership had to hope for the best but expect changes like this," said Katherine McLane, a Livestrong spokeswoman. "Obviously, it's a sad day, but it's marked by the foundation's deep gratitude to Nike."

The partnership began nine years ago and turned Livestrong into a marketing marvel that revolutionized the way charities raise money. Armstrong's brand also benefited. He had rebounded from testicular cancer to race the Tour again and become a global hero to millions as a symbol of hope to those fighting cancer.

Nike helped raise more than $100 million for the charity, mostly through the sale of more than 87 million yellow rubber Livestrong bracelets that cost $1 each. Those bracelets helped unite the cancer community and became ubiquitous worldwide, making it onto the wrists of high-powered politicians like John Kerry and Hollywood stars on the red carpet.

KeJuan Wilkins, a Nike spokesman, said in an emailed statement that the company would continue to finance Livestrong directly but did not elaborate on how much Nike would give to Livestrong.

Nike's announcement was yet another blow to Armstrong and his once-invincible image that has been crumbling rapidly since last fall, when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency published a 202-page report that provided evidence of Armstrong's doping. The report triggered a landslide of trouble for Armstrong, who already had been barred from Olympic sports for life and lost his seven Tour titles.

He lost his Nike personal sponsorship. He stepped down as the foundation's chairman of the board, then was ousted from the board altogether. In January, he confessed to doping during most of his career, and he faces several lawsuits that could cost him more than $100 million if he loses.

Livestrong has been bracing for the fallout, including cutting its budget nearly 11 percent from last year in case it brought in less revenue. (It said its revenue projection for this year, however, was ahead by 2.5 percent.) The organization also has tried to re-brand itself by dropping the name Lance Armstrong Foundation and adopting the name Livestrong Foundation.

Earlier this month, Livestrong launched an advertisement campaign promoting its new buzzword, StillStrong, and reminding people that the charity is still providing free services to cancer patients.

Armstrong has remained silent on Livestrong's new direction. In a text message Tuesday, he said he had no comment about Nike's decision to step away from Livestrong because he was no longer associated with either organization.

© 2013 New York Times News Service

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