Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: McDonald's Defends Football Links

Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: McDonald's Defends Football Links

Article excerpt

The fast-food chain is eager to counter criticism of its Euro 2004 sponsorship. Mark Sweney reports from Portugal

It is hard to imagine a major sporting event without McDonald's as a sponsor. Yet with the obesity issue placing the company's business practices under the spotlight - as well as heightened fears of terrorist attacks at high-profile events - the fast-food chain's association with Euro 2004 has attracted unprecedented scrutiny.

Before a ball had even been kicked in this year's competition, McDonald's came under fire after it paid for 17 MPs from the UK to travel to Lisbon to play football against their Portuguese counterparts. Bodies including the British Medical Association's Public Health Committee criticised the MPs' actions as irresponsible in light of government attempts to crack down on spiralling obesity levels.

In the company's defence, sports sponsorship director Stephen Hall points out that McDonald's has a long association with the parliamentary football team. He believes McDonald's has every right to organise such trips to highlight initiatives such as its role in grass-roots football.

'MPs are a key audience for McDonald's. It is not wrong to spend time with them and talk about our involvement in football,' he says. 'We don't for a second question their integrity or think that a few days in Portugal will change the way they vote.'

Hall is also sanguine about another potential PR pitfall - the effect of football hooliganism on the image of tournament sponsors. So far more than 30 English football fans have been sent home. 'It is about weighing the brand benefits,' he says. 'The key question is whether the consumer relates the sponsor to hooliganism, and I don't think they make that connection.'

On-site activity

The MPs' football game was just the start of the company's on-site programme to leverage its sponsorship, which is worth an estimated pounds 15m across Euro 2000 and 2004. During the tournament, McDonald's UK is taking 40 of its staff to Portugal as part of an internal incentive scheme, as well as a host of journalists and almost 1500 children and their guardians to provide player escorts - the children who accompany players onto the pitch at each game.

The player escort programme ties in with the company's association with football at ground level. But it is this close link between fast food and children that has left McDonald's in arguably the most sensitive position of all the tournament sponsors.

'Euro 2004 provides a good platform for McDonald's to counter criticism and communicate how it contributes to the welfare of the sport by providing much-needed grass-roots investment,' says Ben Wells, account director at sports sponsorship agency Red Mandarin. …

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