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McDonald’s ends 41-year sponsorship contract with Olympic Games three years early

Lausanne: McDonald’s has ended its longtime Olympic sponsorship dating back to 1976, the International Olympic Committee announced on Friday.

The US fast food giant has supported the Olympics since the Montreal Games and although the split takes place with immediate effect they will continue to be a sponsor at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

“The IOC and McDonald’s have announced that they have mutually agreed to bring their worldwide partnership to an end,” an IOC statement confirmed.

A construction worker walks past a 2020 Olympics building construction site in Tokyo. Reuters

The burger chain, which is cutting its Olympic ties with three years of its contract still to run, was one of the IOC’s heavyweight “TOP” partners along with the likes of Coca Cola, Visa, Bridgestone, Panasonic, Toyota and Omega.

The IOC, giving the reasons behind the divorce, wrote: “In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, we understand that McDonald’s is looking to focus on different business priorities.”

McDonald’s global chief marketing officer Silvia Lagnado commented: “As part of our global growth plan, we are reconsidering all aspects of our business and have made this decision in cooperation with the IOC to focus on different priorities.”

Whilst McDonald’s first became an official backer at Montreal in 1976 and a TOP partner in 1997, the company’s Olympic appetite was first whetted at the 1968 Grenoble Winter Games.

McDonald’s on their website explained how they “airlifted” burgers to US Olympic athletes who had become “so homesick for American food” in the French Alpine city.

Over the decades the fast food chain has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars into the IOC’s cash tills and had a popular presence at every Olympic village since.

At last year’s Rio Games their promotion of free meals for athletes triggered lengthy queues from sunrise to sunset.

One marketing guru suggested the split was logical given the emphasis on health-conscious diets.

“The scale of obesity and diet-related disease around the world is alarming, and although we can’t put this at McDonald’s door they must be aware that sponsoring the Olympics has now become ‘illogical’ and even in many ways ‘counterproductive’,” British sports marketing expert Patrick Nally told AFP.

“McDonald’s have many other ways of promoting themselves but the logic of them sponsoring the Olympics does not now fit with the current attitude to fast food,” Nally added.

Looking ahead to their last association with the Olympic movement next year, the IOC said: “McDonald’s will continue to be a sponsor of the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018 with domestic marketing rights in the Republic of Korea only.

“The company will deliver its Games-time operations, including restaurants in the Olympic Park and the Olympic Village.”

The IOC said it had “no immediate plans to appoint a direct replacement in the retail food operations sponsorship category”.

The IOC, with over 500 employees on its payroll, receives 70% of its revenue from broadcasting rights, which for 2013-2016 rose by 7.4% to $4.1 billion (3.67 billion) compared to 2009-2012, according to IOC figures.

The bulk of the revenue is paid out to international sports federations, national Olympic committees, and Games organisers.


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