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The Big Mac

McDonald’s corporate director of sports marketing in Latin America, David Grinberg, talks about his journey from a sports journalist to the head of sponsorship activation for the 2016 Olympic Games.

I started my career as a journalist for a sports magazine. Even though everyone in Brazil is crazy about football, I had the opportunity to cover other sports including swimming, volleyball and basketball. However, I moved to the corporate side of communications in 2001 when I became a senior account director for PR firm Edelman.

Nike is always in the spotlight both for good and bad times. I left Edelman to become the spokesperson for Nike in Brazil. At the time we had a problem with top-flight football club Flamengo, which suddenly ended our partnership before the contract expired. They heavily criticised Nike for allegedly not delivering its products and for the jersey bringing them bad luck on the pitch. I spent a lot of my time in front of the press saying the claims weren’t true. In reality the club was offered a better kit deal by local sports equipment company Olympikus.

McDonald’s is
pushing Fifa to tell
us what is actually

A club will always be right in its fans’ eyes. It was a really tough period, because it required a strategy on how to not disrespect Flamengo in any way as it had 35 million fans, which means 35 million potential Nike consumers. On the other hand, we knew we were in the right. The stand-off lasted three to four months and ended in court, where I had to testify for Nike – we eventually won the case.

I had to start McDonald’s sponsorship in Brazil from scratch. Having had Samsung as a client at Edelman, I became its sports marketing manager for Brazil. That was a key moment in my career, as I had officially left the corporate communications world to become a marketing guy. However, I barely spent a year at Samsung, because McDonald’s offered me the role of senior sports marketing manager in 2010 to prepare its sponsorship activation for the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics. The problem was McDonald’s didn’t actually have any sports marketing staff in Brazil.

Nobody knew what sports marketing was in Brazil 20 years ago. When I look back to 1998 when I first started in this industry, Brazil was a different world in terms of sports marketing. Even the phrase ‘sports marketing’ wasn’t a common domain. Brands who sponsored teams or athletes at the time didn’t treat the deal as an asset and there were no activation plans. Sports clubs were simply advertising banners, which gave lots of exposure but no one took advantage of the sponsorship.

The 2014 World Cup was a great catalyst for Brazil’s sports marketing industry. Brazil now has a very mature sports market, but we are still years behind what’s happening abroad in places like the UK. We are learning a lot and there’s a long way to go, but at least we’ve started. Unfortunately, the political and economic situation in the country has prevented us from benefitting more from the event, because the local sponsorship deals from the World Cup itself didn’t leave much of a lasting legacy.

Rio has everything it needs to deliver a great Olympic Games. I don’t think we should compare London 2012 to what’s happening in Brazil, though, because it’s always going to different – not better or worse.

McDonald’s will never connect its sports sponsorship to its sales. When we sponsor major sports events we promote their moral values as they are synonymous with McDonald’s values. You will never see McDonald’s activating sponsorship by telling consumers to buy our products in return for a prize related to sports. We would rather tell consumers to send us a letter about their World Cup dreams for a chance to win tickets.

We will be recruiting around 1,000 staff for the Rio Games. We will also be building restaurants in the athletes’ village and media centre. The success of the sponsorship will be measured based on the amount of people we engage with via social media, the number of people who apply or register to our activation activities, and the recall of the brand.

McDonald’s is pushing Fifa to tell us what is actually happening. We are also insisting Fifa to come up with a new ethical and transparency policy. Sepp Blatter has been the president for a long time, and he’s had his moments, but now I think it’s an important time to focus on integrity.

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