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McDonald’s missing from the Olympics — Why?

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Last summer, McDonald’s announced it would be ending its advertising partnership with the International Olympic Committee. The deal was supposed to run through 2020, but if you look around for McDonald’s connection with this year’s Winter Olympics, you won’t see it.

While there is a McDonalds in the Olympic Park and Village, there will be no athletes touting the Big Mac or wearing the Golden Arches. No commercials juxtaposing McDonald’s food with the best athletes in the world. This is an omission we haven’t seen in decades. Even as recently as the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, McDonald’s was stuck like glue to the Olympic Games. The connection was everywhere, and the commercials were nearly constant.

At the time, CNN captured and reported some of the perspectives expressed by McDonald’s representatives: “It’s a great opportunity for us and our business down in South America to really capitalize…”

Two years later, the tone is much more subdued. Here’s a recent statement from McDonald’s: “We are proud of everything that we have achieved as an Olympic sponsor, but as a part of our global growth plan, we are reconsidering all aspects of our business… As a result, we have made the decision, in cooperation with the International Olympic Committee, to focus on different priorities.”

In other words, we’re not getting the return we want, so we’re done. That was not the story the IOC shared with the media. Michael Payne, speaking for the IOC, said the breakup was amicable. “McDonald’s has been a partner for a very long time, which is expensive… It also got to the point where McDonald’s was difficult to manage. McDonald’s viewed itself as owning the food category. This isn’t just a case of the sponsor saying, ‘We’ve decided to move on.’”

So, is this a case of two parties feeling like they were better off without each other? A divorce citing irreconcilable differences? Seems that way, at least on the surface. For McDonald’s the Olympics simply isn’t what it once was. Media is changing, and “must-see TV” is no longer so “must” for millions.

For the IOC, McDonald’s departure allows other food vendors to come in, and that may mean more funding for the IOC in the long run. Plus, variety is not such a bad thing when your whole theme is international competition and cooperation.

But one question remains: why quit two years early? Some are blaming changes at the top for McDonald’s. The company welcomed a new CEO in 2015, and, since then, there’s been a big shift toward more 21st-century customer service: apps, online ordering, and delivery, for example.

McDonald’s is also losing customers to other fast casual options and other fast food places that are considered healthier, especially by Millennial parents. The convenience and the move toward tech connections is one way to shore up that market, many of whom would rather stream Netflix than watch the Olympics.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations

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Ronn Torossian and Jonathan Greenstein

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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