By Lewis Lazare, Chicago Business Journal.
McDonald’s decision earlier this month to end its longstanding sponsorship of the Olympics (dating back to 1976) was met with shock and surprise by observers in the wake of the International Olympic Committee’s carefully-orchestrated announcement of the news.
At the time, McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) said its decision was prompted primarily by a desire to focus on other business priorities as CEO Steve Easterbrook continues his wide-ranging crusade to turn around the burger behemoth.
But might there have been other precipitating factors behind the decision as well? For one, might it have been the IOC’s wish not to have to keep explaining its ties to McDonald’s, coupled with the burger chain’s desire to counter the ongoing negative publicity tied to public health concerns that have seemingly hit McDonald’s with ever greater force at every Olympics in recent times?
Time magazine at the time of the London Olympics in 2012 posted an article with the headline “Do the Olympics Need Fast Food Sponsors?” And England’s Guardian newspaper ran a story during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro that called the Olympics “a carnival of junk food marketing.”
Boston-based Corporate Accountability International, a corporate watchdog group that monitors issues related to public health and human rights, believes McDonald’s decision to exit the Olympics is a massive victory for public health worldwide.
Said CAI campaign director Sriram Madhusoodanan in a statement: “For far too long, the fast food giant has profited richly from its sponsorship of the Olympics, in spite of the contradiction between the junk food that McDonald’s peddles and the healthy lifestyle — including diet — that Olympic athletes must adhere to. While certainly a win for public health, this move is long overdue.”
Madhusoodanan didn’t stop there. He insisted that other major sports entities, including soccer’s governing body FIFA and the National Football League, should cut their ties to McDonald’s to “protect the health of millions of children who look up to and idolize their athletes.”
McDonald’s ties to the Olympics will be gone after the 2018 Winter Games, but the company still will have hundreds of millions of marketing dollars at its disposal to come up with clever ways to reach — and win over — consumers.