Wednesday, September 17, 2008

McDonalds and The Economy

Marketing and sponsorship big wigs convened in New York over the past two days for the 6th Annual Relay Worldwide Sports Sponsorship Symposium. The two main topics on everyone's mind this year were 1) the Beijing Olympics and 2) the less-than-Olympic-performing economy.

I've been appalled each time I've seen McDonald's as a major partner with the Olympics. I loved the commercial this year with a U.S. female gymnast chowing down on a chicken sandwich. I mean, how many times do these female gymnasts actually wolf one of those puppies down? Never--if they're at all concerned about keeping their mostly prepubescent bodies trim and lean. But the Golden Arches was the first official restaurant of an Olympic games in 1996 in Atlanta, and they've been feeding the world's athletes ever since. This year, US swimmer Ryan Lotche bragged about his huge MacDo meals in the Olympic Village in Beijing. For someone like Ryan, who's burning more calories per day than he can actually ingest, that might make a lot of sense. Just don't check his arteries in 20 years.

Apparently McDonald's considers their time in Beijing a success. They installed their first drive-thru restaurant (where confused customers drove through the line, then parked their cars and went inside to eat), and they have grand plans of infiltrating the Chinese fast-food scene in the same way they've conquered the U.S. market. We'll see if they show up in London in 2012.

As for the more serious question facing the sports industry, much of the focus of this conference was how to continue to grow your business in a time when consumers are massively cutting back on extraneous expenses. They're not gonna slap down thousands of dollars on season tickets anymore if they've already traded in their Chevy trucks for a more fuel-efficient Prius. Priorities have shifted.

But many sports marketing executives argued that this is an opportunity for companies to provide a better product for their consumers in order to keep driving the business. Improve the in-stadium experience with enhanced media features, deliver more channels for keeping tabs on your local team, like mobile TV and video, and make your customers feel like they're putting in the same amount of money for those season tickets but they're actually getting a vastly improved product--it's almost a steal! Mark Tatum, Sr VP of Marketing and Partnerships for the NBA, claims that the sports industry might even be at an advantage right now. People will need an outlet from all their financial fears and concerns, and many will likely turn towards sports as a way to blow off some steam. I mean, what could be better than drowning your sorrows in a $17 plastic beer cup at a Giants game in AT&T park with all your 41,000 closest friends?

Unfortunately, there did not appear to be females on the keynote speaker lineup, nor could I find any commentary about the conference from them. I guess men continue to dominate this industry the way Big Macs dominated China this August...

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