Michael Pavitt

The Olympic world was rocked on Friday (June 16) when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and McDonald's jointly announced they no longer had the appetite to continue their partnership. 

While the ending of the relationship with immediate effect has not shocked every marketing guru, the fact it has concluded early has certainly raised some eyebrows. McDonald's, who had been a sponsor of every Olympics since the Winter Games at Innsbruck in 1976, had three years left to run on an eight-year deal worth $100 million (£78.2 million/€89.5 million).

The fast-food retailer was a founding member of The Olympic Programme (TOP) sponsorship scheme and benefited from exclusive global marketing rights and opportunities in their category.

There is a sense that the partnership had run its course, with the IOC claiming it has no immediate plans to appoint a direct replacement.

Social media reaction poured in after the news, with members of the media and athletes either mourning the death of the partnership, and the future lack of a McDonald's restaurant at Olympic Villages, or expressing relief.

Photos of athletes conducting post-competition McDonald's feasts, and jokes about how they were no longer "lovin' it", continued throughout much of the day. The post-competition McDonald's appears to have been part of most athletes' post competition ritual and, in some cases, even their preparations. 

It reminded me of my second favourite story about Maurice Greene, which is only bettered by him chasing down a thief who stole the bag of team-mate Larry Wade at the 1999 World Athletics Championships.

"Maurice Greene, the American sprinter, was even spotted in Athens enjoying a Big Mac, outside the Village, clearly feeling flush from his endorsements," an extract from the 2012 book, The Secret Olympian, reads. 

"It was the day before his 4x100 metres final. In fairness he'd already won the 100m a few days before."

It is worth noting that Greene was unable to chase down Mark Lewis-Francis in the 4x100m final as Britain claimed gold, with the United States settling for silver.

Maurice Greene reportedly enjoyed a McDonald's before competing at Athens 2004 ©Getty Images
Maurice Greene reportedly enjoyed a McDonald's before competing at Athens 2004 ©Getty Images

This came before Usain Bolt revealed he had gorged on chicken nuggets in the build-up to his hat-trick of gold medals at the Beijing 2008 Olympics four-years later.

While both stories are amusing anecdotes, however true they are, they have continued to highlight the jarring contrast between the Olympics' desire to promote a healthy lifestyle and McDonald's - a major fast food retailer.

It hardly helps the idea of "getting couch potatoes off the couch"when some of the world's most recognisable athletes are putting the fried variety into their mouths on the greatest stage on earth.

The loss of McDonald's does not really seem a huge one for the IOC, with burgers reportedly set to be replaced by microchips in the form of technology company Intel - which is expected to become a global partner.

With the IOC's partners already including Samsung, Panasonic and the recently announced Alibaba, there is an argument to be made that the organisation's focus has significantly shifted. It would be completely understandable, with the IOC regularly preaching about trying to connect with young people.

Clearly, the route to connecting with young people is deemed to be through technology. Working with these partners also seems to be in keeping with the Olympic Channel. Intel could prove quite a snug fit in this aspect and it would probably not come as a surprise if they were to support the Channel, should a partnership officially emerge.

McDonald's has always been an odd fit with the Olympic Games ©Getty Images
McDonald's has always been an odd fit with the Olympic Games ©Getty Images

News of the "McExit" actually came at a relatively good time for the IOC, one could argue. McDonald's and the IOC's divorce became official in the 24 hours after the cost of last year's Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro was increased to BRL$43.3 billion (£10.4 billion/$13.2 billion/€11.8 billion).

The figures, published in a report by the Governing Authority of the Olympic Legacy, came in at around BRL$14.5 billion (£3.5 billion/$4.4 billion/€3.9 billion) more than originally planned for the Games.

A total of BRL$7.23 billion (£1.73 billion/$2.21 billion/€1.98 billion) was claimed to have been spent on venues, while infrastructure projects were claimed to have increased to BRL$26.7 billion (£6.4 billion/$8.2 billion/€7.3 billion).

The operational budget for the Games was BRL$8.7 billion (£2.1 billion/$2.7 billion/€2.4 billion).

To the IOC's credit, they were quick off the blocks in response to the latest figures being released.

"Rio 2016 provided the opportunity to Rio to bring forward a number of long-term investment projects, many of which were not directly related to the staging of the Olympic Games," a key part of their statement read.

"This infrastructure budget was under the scope of the Government authorities and included the metro, new bus lines, the revitalised harbour, the clean-up of the Guanabara Bay and other projects which directly benefit the people of Rio.

"It simply does not make sense to include these infrastructure investments which will provide long term benefit to the city and the region in the cost of the Games."

The cost associated with hosting the Rio 2016 Olympics is likely to pose a problem for the IOC ©Getty Images
The cost associated with hosting the Rio 2016 Olympics is likely to pose a problem for the IOC ©Getty Images

To a certain extent, I agree with this analysis. Clearly, cities have sought to use hosting the Games to push through new infrastructure, which might not be essential. While providing benefits, the often eye-watering figures are simply added to the overall bill for the Games. It comes as no surprise, then, when residents of potential host cities show opposition when presented with big numbers.

The IOC need to continually hammer home this message to the public. If a country decides to spend a fortune on developing a city or resort, such as Sochi, the IOC need to be proactive in trying to separate these infrastructure costs from those actually required to host the Games.

It is arguably more important to achieve this perceived cost of hosting the Games than it is for the IOC to reduce the price of the bidding process.

Perhaps it would also be wise to avoid referring to the Games as being "a present", as IOC President Thomas Bach did in the last fortnight.

While the focus has been centered around the McDonald's partnership with the IOC coming to a close this week, the cost of hosting the Games looks likely to have the greatest impact long-term.