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10 facts about The Olympics & Junk Food Sponsors

The London Olympics start today (Wednesday 25th July 2012) with the women’s football kicking off in Cardiff. There has been much talk about the sponsors involved in the Olympics – particularly the junk food sponsors – McDonalds, Coca-cola and Cadbury. Here are some factoids that you may enjoy:

1) The major part of funding comes from broadcasting, not sponsors

Between 2005-2008, $5,450 million was raised for the Olympic Games (the majority goes to the summer games, but each four year funding period also covers the winter games.) This broke down as follows:

– Broadcasting ($2,570m – 47%);

– The Olympic Partner Programme ($866m – 16%);

– Domestic sponsorship ($1,555m – 29%);

– Ticketing ($274m – 5%);

– Licensing ($185,000 – 3%). (Ref 1)

2) There are nine official Olympic Partners

There are currently nine TOP organisations – as The Olympic Partners are known. These are Coca-cola (non-alcoholic beverages), Acer (computing technology equipment), Atos Origin (information technology), GE (infrastructure & healthcare products & services), McDonalds (retail food services), Omega (timing & scoring), Panasonic (audio/TV/video equipment), Samsung (wireless communications) and VISA (consumer payment systems).

I can understand that the games need timing and technology experts but they simply do not need junk food sponsors.

3) McDonald’s accounts for less than 2% of the revenue – the Olympics absolutely can go ahead without them

McDonald’s announced in January 2012 that it would continue its sponsorship through 2020, a deal estimated at about $100 million per four years, or for every pair (winter and summer) of Olympic Games. (Ref 2). This amounts to less than 2% of the overall revenue – when Lord Coe says that the games are not viable without the sponsors, he does not need to include McDonalds.

McDonald’s will build its largest location ever for the 2012 Olympics – a 30,000 sq m,​two-story building capable of seating 1,500 customers – in the Olympic Park.

4) Coca-Cola sponsors the Olympics “to build brand awareness”

Coca-Cola is “proud to be the longest continuous corporate partner of the Olympic Games” – an involvement that dates back to the Amsterdam games of 1928 and has just been extended to 2020 “extending this extraordinary relationship to nearly a full century”, in the company’s own words. Coca-Cola’s web page on the Olympics proudly states: “As an organization, The Coca-Cola Company shares the Olympic Values, which embody the discovery of one’s abilities, the spirit of competition, the pursuit of excellence, a sense of fair play and the building of a better and more-peaceful world.” (Ref 3)

No mention of the “nearly 70 different beverage products”. Strangely silent on the 140 calories, 39 grams of sugar and 34 milligrams of caffeine per 355 millilitres of Coca-Cola. No mention of the ingredients list, with the empty calories: carbonated water; high fructose corn syrup; caramel color; phosphoric acid; natural flavours and caffeine. The marketing people must know that they need to promote the company and not the product that it makes when the web site nutritional information needs to say what the product is not, rather than what it is: “Not a significant source of fat calories, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron”.

Coca-Cola asks and answers the following question on its web site: Why does Coca-Cola sponsor the Olympics? “We are a business, and so part of the reason for our sponsorship is to build awareness for our brands …” (Ref 4)

5) Cadbury is a domestic sponsor – no doubt keen to have the halo effect of having junk associated with sporting excellence

Cadbury is a relative newcomer, having sponsored the Sydney Olympics, in 2000, and the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, in 2002, and Melbourne, in 2006. They are a London 2012 Olympic Supporter, rather than part of TOP programme.

Their announcement that they were going to sponsor the 2012 Olympics was criticised by the National Obesity Forum. Board member, Tam Fry, was quoted as saying “I would be very concerned that it is encouraging children to eat chocolate because it is all part of the promotion of unhealthy food to children.” Cadbury’s response was the one that we commonly hear: “Treats can be consumed responsibly – the key is how to balance consumption of treats and physical activity.” (Ref 5) I.e. processed food is part of a balanced healthy diet. Cadbury have the ‘eatwell’ plate on their side in this respect.

Rebecca Adlington is an “Athlete ambassador” for Cadbury (Ref 6)

“As part of our London 2012 sponsorship programme Cadbury is engaging with six UK athletes, Cadbury Athlete Ambassadors, as a means of promoting the brand’s involvement in London 2012 and our relationship with fantastic hopefuls.  This helps the athletes financially and gives them a platform and profile, showing their human face and fun side.”

Speedo, British Gas & Cadbury are Rebecca Adlington’s three sponsors. (Ref 7)

6) Global swimming Gold medallists promote McDonalds

Michael Phelps won his eighth gold medal, at the Beijing Olympics, on 16 August 2008. Two days later he was at the McDonald’s, just 20 minutes away from the Water Cube, for a photo shoot. Rebecca Adlington won two gold medals in the same Water Cube, also shattering world records. She was asked in her post win interview how she planned to celebrate. “’I’m going to go to McDonald’s,’ she told The Independent on Sunday with a sheepish grin.[1] ‘After all this hard work, and watching what I eat, I just fancy a burger and some chips.’” (Ref 8)

Rebecca Adlington should be an inspiration for our next generation, not a sponsor’s dream.

7) Lord Coe defends the sponsors

And, as we heard in radio coverage last week, Coe is prepared to go as far as saying that Pepsi T Shirts won’t be welcome at the Olympic games because we need to keep Coca-Cola happy. This led to comments that he had confused sponsorship with censorship.

In the programme Who made me Fat?, (Ref 9) Rebecca Wilcox wrote to Lord Sebastian Coe, chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, about the association of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Cadbury with the 2012 games. Wilcox had two requests for interviews rejected, but she did receive a letter saying: “At the London 2012 games there will be a wide range of food and drink options available including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Cadbury products. These companies have a great heritage in supporting the Olympic movement and in promoting balanced active lifestyles. We are proud to be working with them to deliver a successful Olympic Games… Put simply, without commercial partners, the Games would not happen.”

The games do need a time keeper (Omega) and technology and communication partners but the games absolutely could go ahead without fries and cola.

From point (1), the total revenue between 2005-2008 was $5,450 million. McDonald’s contribution is less than 2% of that. The Games can go ahead without them.

8) The Games don’t produce spikes in activity

It is argued that the Games will encourage a legacy of people taking up sport. I have not seen any graphs of physical activity showing spikes at the time of the Olympics – nor an upwards overall trend since the games began. (The original Greek games ran from 8thC BC to 4th C AD. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded in 1894 – first games held 1896). It is more likely that we will be watching the games from our sofa than not watching them and being active instead. (The Games run from 27 July to 12 August).

The British Sports Minister admitted this week that the 50 year old couch potato is not going to leap out of their armchair when they see Usain Bolt.

9) At the current rate, is will take Sport England 32 years to hit the Olympic target

The “One Million Target” – Sport England is tasked with getting one million more people regularly taking part in sport (one measure is participation 3 x a week) by 2013.

After a survey between October 2010 and 2011, Sport England announced that “Across the country 6.927 million people are now taking part three times a week, that’s 111,800 more than in 2007/08… 14.759 million adults are playing sport at least once a week.” (Ref 10)

At a rate of progression of 111,800 in 4 years, that’s 537 conversions a week – it will take nearly 32 years (from 2011) to hit the 1 million target. The Independent recently did an article indicating that progress had “flatlined” since the 2011 report. (Ref 11) (This survey – 2007/8 – also recorded a fall in the number of young people 16-19 playing sport which was described as “of real concern”).

10) And finally…

… Some extra factoids:

*      Beijing (2008) was broadcast to 220 countries (Ref 1)

*      Athens (2004) had 34.4 billion viewer hours (Ref 1)

*      14 million meals will be served during the games across 40 different locations covering London, the South & the South East. (Ref 12)

*      The only branded ‘food’ products available at London 2012 will be those provided by sponsors – McDonalds, Coca-cola, Cadbury, Nature Valley and Heineken.

*      There will be some great British food at The Games – if you avoid the branded products. A sample menu is below – UK oats, Yorkshire butter, British cheese, tuna, hog roast – there are some excellent options:


Porridge and maple syrup, made with UK oats and milk – £2.20

Toasted tea cakes, with Yorkshire butter – £2.10

Carrot and cucumber sticks with red pesto hummus – £2.50

6 Jerk Red Tractor assured chicken wings – £3.50

Red Leicester British cheese with British apple chutney and Farm assured lettuce on Oxfordshire bread – £3.80

Jacket potato with Dingley Dell bacon and Freedom Foods chicken in a herb mayonnaise, served with roquete and watercress salad – £5.80

Pole and line caught tuna and sweet potato British salad – £5.90

Freshly carved Dingley Dell hog roasted Red Tractor pork, served in Oxfordshire cross hatched bread roll with mixed leaf salad and assorted accompaniments – £6.50

Grilled Red Tractor chicken burrito – £6.50

Farm assured Scotch Beef with Long Clawson Stilton Pie, Irish mashed potato with Red Tractor Cream and British butter and onion gravy – £8.00

If you are lucky enough to have tickets for The Games enjoy the British traditional foods on offer and steer well clear of the 1,500 seater McDonalds!

[1] The Oxford English Dictionary defines “sheepish” as “embarrassed through shame”. I hope that Adlington was sheepish.

Ref 1: ; “Olympic Marketing Fact file” 2010

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Ref 9: Rebecca Wilcox, UK BBC 3, Who made me fat?, (30 October 2009). Repeated on BBC 1 (1 March 2010).

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8 thoughts on “10 facts about The Olympics & Junk Food Sponsors

  • Pingback: Junk food sponsoring the Olympics: fair game or foul play?

  • However, Cadbury’s do make the superior Bourneville Cocoa powder, which is my favourite drink, mixed with cream and hot water, or as a chocolate paste, just mixed with cream.
    This is wonderful (almost) zero-carb stuff and I will not hear a word said against the company that makes it, nor any criticism of their employing child slaves.

  • Further to Point No6, has anyone kept an eye (serious research or informal) on how many athletes say something along those lines in post-victory interviews? My reason for asking – I was reminded of Zoë’s comments about Rebecca Adlington last night, while discussing Nicola Adams. A friend posted on Facebook, singling out Nicola’s comment about going to Nando’s for dinner as proof of what a lovely, down-to-earth girl she must be.

    (I’ll digress and say this isn’t a criticism of Nicola – incredible achievement and she seems like a genuinely lovely person. Also Nando’s seems like one of the more Harcombe-friendly restaurants out there, looking at what people have said about it on the Forum, so I’m not bashing the choice of eatery either, particularly not if the namedrop got the official sponsors’ knickers in a twist!)

    I replied but – volunteering that it was probably a cynical view – added that perhaps it wasn’t as spontaneous a comment as it seemed, and that it wasn’t impossible that Nicola had some kind of deal with Nando’s or was hoping for one. (This based on the assumption that someone who’s reached that level in their sport will have been given at least some awareness or training on how to deal with the media. Also, Nando’s seems to be a bit of a cult, pop culture-savvy brand. Right now, it’s probably the restaurant chain that’s most namechecked by celebrities, and there’s a whole mythology about the “Black Card” – which supposedly lets the chosen few celebrities eat there for free, and the ones reputed to have a card could be categorised as mainstream or the cooler end of mainstream.)

    My friend agreed that yes I was probably being cynical and this was nothing more than a simple case of a nice, unaffected girl treating herself after all her hard work. Which may have been true to an extent. But I can’t help but wonder:

    How many athletes DO namecheck fast food places in post-victory interviews?
    How genuine are their comments (on a sliding scale from 100% spontaneous via hoping for a free lunch or two up to saying it because they’ve been briefed or even paid to do so?)

    I think my cynicism comes from a brand being mentioned (as opposed to, say, “I’m going to hug my nan” or “I’m off out for a family meal”.) And it often amazes me how defensive people get over junk food – “likes junk food” is shorthand for down-to-earth, one of us, and don’t dare to suggest there’s any hidden agenda, and even if you say, “Each to their own but I don’t like it”, you’re a snob.

    Sorry, waffling a bit here, but it was (ahem!) food for thought.

  • M, you state “I doubt there would be many enduring the pain and sacrifice it requires if we were not entertained by the struggle of competition.”

    You obviously don’t participate in any disciplined sport yourself, so you glibly comment with confidence about matters which you know little. Like millions of people worldwide, I exercise vigorously several days a week and have for decades now, with no concern whatsoever about the glory-mongering you trumpet as insight. (Where is the athlete’s “need for others” you speak about when, for example, I run several fast-and-hard miles late at night when, and because, all the road traffic is gone?) You’d never understand the motivation to do this, from your comments, but millions of athletes (with their endorphin surge addictions) do.

    You miss Zoe’s implicit philosophy itself when you claim vigorous physical activity (sport) is “perverse”. We evolved over aeons as runners and climbers and meat hunters and plant grazers. Recent development of humans into nutrient-deficient, cola-drinking, processed-starch-imbibing blobs of inactivity with frozen joints… that is where the true perversion lies — especially when our children are indoctrinated that this is “normal grown-up behavior” for them to emulate.

    The simple fact is that there’s immense financial profit in getting humans into this perverse state, and immense profit in “treating” our resultant afflictions.

    On your last comment about the “McDonald’s bashing”: reading the rambling comment itself, I’m not really sure what your point was for others to discover, or why you were attempting to make it here. Anyway, try a vigorous walk a few days a week for a while. Amazing what it can do for your mind and body, as you’ll discover for yourself (and no one else has to know — really! We won’t tell anyone).

    Cheers from the land of fried food, morbid obesity, chain-smoking, irresponsible drinking, disability-drawing, and “proud ownership” of legal concealed handguns by angry low-IQ folk looking for an opportunity to prove their manliness to others: red-state Tennessee, USA! ;-)

  • Oh and I’m a little tired of the McDonald’s bashing. I don’t eat their food but they provide a very good service. And they’re not stopping anyone from eating elsewhere. The Olympics and McDonald’s are a great match. It’s a global brand a lot of people trust and clearly want. Where the people don’t want it; they don’t succeed.

    I went to the sea-side last weekend and the food and service on offer was an embarrassment. There were two options: Harvester and the local cafe. We went into Harvester and waited so long we gave up. Incidentally, while waiting we saw several chefs emerge from the kitchen wearing the dirtiest clothes I have ever seen. All of them. We proceeded to the cafe where the usual was on offer. The girl at the till was completely incompetent, she didn’t even know scampi was on the menu and was available that day. We paid £8 for a plate of six (previously frozen) scampi, a handful of previously frozen chips and a garnish of cucumber and quarter of a tomato.

    I would have happily walked into McDonalds that day. Sorry, but a lot of the food on offer in Britain is still either over-priced, substandard, masquerading as ‘good food’ or extremely good for a king’s ransom. Most people don’t care too much about food and this is why we have what we have.

  • @ Kat. Really? No audience, no sense of glory, no sense of fulfillment. Athletes need others: to witness their successes; to pat them on the back; jumping for joy; looking up to them; talking about the win; recording their win; buying tickets; sharing the pain of a loss – you get the picture. I doubt there would be many enduring the pain and sacrifice it requires if we were not entertained by the struggle of competition.

  • Thanks for the great post. Did you see this pic on facebook?
    Someone made a comment about where sponsorship money would come from if McDonald’s didn’t provide it. I posted a link to your blog posting.

    And “M”, athletes don’t put their bodies through training for “our entertainment”, it’s for themselves and the fulfillment of their dreams.

  • I suspect the only increase in activity I’ll experience, is my heart beating too fast while watching the 100m men’s final. Mercifully, it will only be for a few seconds. I enjoy watching sport but it is a perverse activity. When we consider what athletes put their bodies through for our entertainment I can’t help but think we are a strange and curious lot.

    We might as well accept the Olympics is a corporate event and as such their will be a lot of shenanigans and crap food. Beef and mash sounds nice though.

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