In 2012, as Lance Armstrong contested and eventually stopped fighting charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career, Livestrong, the foundation Armstrong started to fund cancer research, sold more of its iconic, yellow bracelets than ever.
According to ESPN, Nike manufactured and sold $150 million worth of Livestrong branded merchandise that year. Despite those numbers, Nike plans to back away from its high-profile involvement with the foundation it helped start.
“Nike has made the decision to stop producing new Livestrong product after its Holiday 2013 line,” KeJuan Wilkins, a Nike spokesman, said in a statement. “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.”
Livestrong issued a statement in response thanking Nike for its support over the years, but the foundation was also quick to defend its integrity:
“This news will prompt some to jump to negative conclusions about the foundation’s future. 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 PR Verdict, a blog that assesses how companies and public figures handle crises, said Nike was smart to wait until a few months after Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the foundation, which he did in October, and to promise that it would continue quiet support:
“Nike’s PR team knew that withdrawing money from a charity, even in the wake of a disgraceful scandal, could backfire on them. The more sensible and low-risk option? Pull the plug on the products and continue to fund the charity directly.”
When Armstrong resigned from his chairmanship, Marc Pitman of FundraisingCoach.com told Ragan.com that the foundation’s big hurdle to overcome was convincing sponsors and supporters that the foundation and its founder were distinct from each other.
“They felt lied to,” he said of the foundation’s sponsors. “That breach of trust may not be able to be overcome, but if it can be, it could help stabilize their funding.”
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.