McDonald’s Abandons the Olympics

ronn torossian abandons the olympics

McDonald’s recently announced it would be parting ways with the Olympic Games after nearly five decades of public partnership. The fast food chain has been linked with the Games since 1968 when the company delivered burgers to athletes competing in the Grenoble Winter Games.

Eight years later, McDonald’s signed on as an official sponsor and has been so ever since. Year after year, there were cups bearing the interlocked rings of the Olympic logo, ads featuring generations of America’s best athletes and even deals at the store level. Remember when consumers got free food every time an American won a medal? The promotion was a huge success, though some locations ran out of Big Macs back in ’84.

It may have been a marriage made in marketing heaven, but in recent years it’s been mocked incessantly for the “strange juxtaposition” of high-calorie fast food with Olympic athletes. Now critics will have to go to the well for another target.

When asked, the International Olympic Committee said the split was mutual and immediate. Some have said McDonald’s had been entrenched as a sponsor for far too long. That the company was acting as if they owned the food category, boxing other potential advertisers out. From McDonald’s perspective, being one of the top tier advertisers at the Olympics is a huge expense. Sure, they have an international audience, but the Golden Arches already have a near-universal footprint.

And that’s not to say McDonald’s has been banished. They expect to have a restaurant at the Winter Games next year in South Korea. Then, who knows?

It’s going to be interesting to see which international business decides to fill that void. It’s understandably a huge position to fill. McDonald’s has been one of the primary sponsors for the Olympics so long, it will be hard for some to imagine the Games without being interspersed with commercials for Big Macs and “famous” fries.

Of course, the Golden Arches is not the only longtime logo that will soon be absent from the Games. Budweiser, Citi, and AT&T also pulled their sponsorships. While sponsors come and go, this has to be somewhat alarming for the Olympic Committee.

The Games have always been a proven winner for advertisers, but the 2016 Games were a huge disappointment for both TV viewing and advertisers. NBC has broadcast rights through 2032, but they may not be feeling too great about that at the moment. Ratings have been falling steadily over the last few Games. NBC tried to shake things up last year with their coverage, but the lack of live events and the constant switching from one pre-taped sport to another aggravated viewers.  

All of that begs the question: is there an advertiser willing to bet on something that used to be a sure thing but may no longer be.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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