The Olympic Games and McDonald’s: Necessary frenemies?

By: Jennifer Pretty May 15, 2012
McDonald’s Olympic sponsorship

By now you have probably read or heard that McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast food chain, is sponsoring the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, which will be hosted in London. It is almost impossible to avoid the chatter, regardless where in the world you live. From UK’s The Guardian, the India Times, The New York Times, Hispanic Business, China Today and our very own National Post folks can’t contain themselves from weighing in.

The fast food giant is building five locations to accommodate the estimated 500,000 spectators hoping to have their once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the approximately 16,000 athletes from 200 nations competing for the Gold. One of the five restaurants can seat 1500 customers, which makes it the largest McDonald’s location on the planet.

One could easily assume from the nearly 33 million Google hits on the topic, most of which are from within the last two weeks, that this affiliation between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and McDonald’s is a brand new thing. It isn’t. McDonald’s has been a huge corporate sponsor of the Olympics (both winter and summer) since 1976.

One of the more outspoken opponents is The Academy of Royal Medical Colleges. Spokesman Terence Stephenson feels that an event that showcases the athletic skill of some of the best in the world is undermined when companies that promote unhealthy eating and obesity sponsor it.

Why Sponsorship is Sought

From the moment cities are allowed to put their hat in the ring in the hopes of being chosen to host the Olympics, money starts flying! It’s estimated that Tokyo, Madrid, Chicago and Rio de Janeiro, who were vying for the 2016 summer games, all spent tens of millions of dollars – on consultants and projects to beatify their cities – to outdo one another. Rumour has it that Chicago was almost relieved when Rio won.

When London won the bid, the UK capital estimated their Olympic budget to be $4.5 billion. Fewer than 80 days left until the cauldron is lighted, it’s more likely they’ll spend closer to $15 billion. Even with corporate sponsors like McDonald’s, Cadbury, and Coca Cola, London will still be in the red long after the games are over. Closer to home, after Calgary hosted the winter games in 1988, it thought it was in the black, but admits that it hadn’t accounted for indirect costs, such as security. In 2006, Montreal finally paid off its debt from the 1976 Summer Games. And that was with corporate sponsorship.

Free Will

Are the arguments valid that Olympic Games sponsorship shouldn’t come from companies whose products are fat-laden, highly caloric and can cause everything from diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity? In Q1 2012, McDonald’s raked in $6.5 billion in gross earnings, of which $1.3 billion was profit, meaning after paying their expenses, salaries, marketing, taxes, etc.

Do you think McDonald’s sponsoring the Olympic Game’s sends the wrong message and promotes unhealthy eating?


Until next time,

Peace, love and vitamin C!


Jennifer Pretty began her career as the director of artist development for a well-known Canadian music label. Branching out on her own, she then started her own PR business “Pretty Media Management” planning and hosting various charity, entertainment and fashion events. As a dance and fitness class enthusiast Jennifer is a firm believer in the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. She also loves to cook, travel, spend time with family and friends and most importantly living life to the fullest!