Nike Cuts Ties With Livestrong

The plucky wristband-manufacturer (and cancer-awareness-raiser), has lost its second benefactor in less than a year: with Lance Armstrong already out of the picture, Nike has decided to end its nine-year partnership with Livestrong.

Nike dropped Armstrong back in October, after the released of a comprehensive and damning USADA report into the cyclist's doping. Armstrong left Livestrong's board of directors soon after. At the time, Nike announced it "planned to continue support of the Livestrong initiatives created to unite, inspire and empower people affected by cancer." What that statement actually meant was that Nike was just waiting for its contract to expire.

That deal is up in 2014, and while Nike will continue to honor the terms until then, it will stop manufacturing its Livestrong line of merchandise after the 2013 holiday season. Gotta get that last Christmas in, because the partnership was supremely profitable for Nike. According to ESPN, Nike sold $150 million worth of Livestrong gear in 2012 alone. Meanwhile, the portion of the sales that went to Livestrong has totaled around $100 million since 2004.

Nike has enough irons in the fire that they don't need any good will that comes with Lance Armstrong's secondhand taint. How will Livestrong survive? That's a damned good question. In Bill Gifford's takedown of the charity for Outside Magazine, he pondered how the charity would fare without Armstrong.

In a sense, Livestrong and Lance are like conjoined twins, each depending on the other for survival. Separating them—or even figuring out where one ends and the other begins—is no small task. The foundation is a major reason why sponsors are attracted to Armstrong; as his agent Bill Stapleton put it in 2001, his survivor story “broadened and deepened the brand … and then everybody wanted him.” But the reverse is also true: Without Lance, Livestrong would be just another cancer charity scrapping for funds.

After Armstrong stepped down (or was forced out, depending on who you ask), Livestrong aggressively distanced itself from him. It changed the name of the charity itself: now officially the Livestrong Foundation, it had actually been the Lance Armstrong Foundation for its first 15 years of life. In March, Livestrong introduced a new logo, to wipe away any residual Armstrong association.

As has been chronicled many times before, Livestrong barely donates money to scientific research—it raises cancer awareness. Without its public face in Armstrong, and without the Nike marketing machine behind it, the next desperate cause might be Livestrong awareness.