After nearly a decade of partnership that was as big on sales of iconic bracelets and athletic gear as it was a major symbol of cancer awareness, Nike has cut ties with Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation.
We already knew that Armstrong had let down his awareness group — he told the Livestrong staff he was "sorry" ahead of a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey earlier this year — but the cancer foundation came to be something else entirely: an engine of profit. And even as its founder faced more and more allegations of doping, sales held strong, according to the latest available financial information leading up to Armstrong's coming-clean on steroids. But then he fessed-up, Livestrong apparel hit the bargain bin, and now Nike will stop making those rubber yellow wristbands.
Nike started producing the Livestrong bracelets in May 2004 — an instant symbol of cancer-patient support, as Armstrong went for his sixth Tour de France win, and doping allegations began to heat up — and went on to sell 80 million of them. The global athletic powerhouse soon expanded the Livestrong brand to yellow exercise gear and much, much more. But today that all came to a crashing halt as the two brands announced their separation. Nike will no longer sell any Livestrong stuff after the 2013 holiday season. Nike, of course, cut its official partnership with Lance Armstrong in October 2012 after he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. Shortly thereafter, Armstrong resigned as the head of Livestrong to save the Foundation from any potential fallout from the doping scandal. But now it appears, after a confession, his damaged image has hurt the foundation even more than he could in person — its product is damage goods.
With Nike's support, Livestrong raised over $500 million for cancer research since the partnership began, with a huge amount of proceeds going to a good cause. "We will continue to support the Livestrong Foundation by funding them directly as they continue their work serving and improving outcomes for people facing cancer," Nike said in their statement today. "This news will prompt some to jump to negative conclusions about the foundation's future," reads Livestrong's statement. "We see things quite differently. We expected and planned for changes like this and are therefore in a good position to adjust swiftly and move forward with our patient-focused work."
The financial standing for the Livestrong Foundation is sound, judging by the information available to us. Charity Navigator gives Livestrong a strong four-star review. And if ESPN's Darren Rovell is right, business for Livestrong branded apparel was booming last year:
Just last year, sources say Nike did about $150 million in sales of Livestrong-branded products, which was the most it ever sold. But industry insiders told ESPN.com that Nike, as well as Dick's Sporting Goods, which sold the most product at retail, were ready to give up the business.
But things apparently took a turn after the Oprah interview in January, when Armstrong admitted using testosterone and EPO and to performing blood transfusions during his cycling career. That's when Dick's Sporting Goods decided to get out of the Livestrong business, because they couldn't sell anything. Livestrong-branded apparel was put on clearance, per Bloomberg:
Sales of exercise equipment also dropped after Lance Armstrong admitted using performance-enhancing drugs during his career, the company said. Equipment branded Livestrong, the charity Armstrong founded, makes up more than 50 percent of its treadmill and elliptical sales. After Armstrong’s admission, demand fell and it’s now clearing inventory with price reductions and has plans replace it with another brand, the company said.
And that's how one man — even one of the great cancer survival stories in American celebrity history — can put olive oil in his veins for personal gain, deny the whole thing, come clean, and ruin one of the most inspiring charity-retail partnerships on the planet.