Why you won’t see Olympics-themed McDonald’s ads this year

This year’s Winter Olympics will be a first for many athletes.

But for longtime sponsor McDonalds, it’ll be the last.

The fast food giant announced in June that it would end a decades-long partnership with the International Olympic Committee. The sponsorship was supposed to run through at least 2020, but McDonald’s pulled out of the deal early.

That means American audiences won’t see any Olympics-themed McDonald’s television advertisements during this year’s Games. It also means the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics will be the last to feature McDonald’s restaurants in the Olympic Park and Village.

Just two years ago, before the start of the Rio Olympics in 2016, McDonald’s was heavily promoting and praising its partnership.

“It’s a great opportunity for us and our business down in South America to really capitalize,” John Lewicki, senior director of sports marketing said at the time.

Yet less than a year later, McDonald’s changed its tune.

“We are proud of everything that we have achieved as an Olympic sponsor but as a part of our global growth plan, we are reconsidering all aspects of our business,” McDonald’s said in a statement to CNNMoney last week. “As a result, we have made the decision, in cooperation with the International Olympic Committee, to focus on different priorities.”

The IOC echoed that the decision to part ways was mutual.

Michael Payne, a former IOC marketing director, told CNNMoney that the split makes sense for both parties.

“McDonald’s has been a partner for a very long time, which is expensive,” he said in June. “It also got to the point where McDonald’s was difficult to manage. McDonald’s viewed itself as owning the food category. This isn’t just a case of the sponsor saying, ‘We’ve decided to move on.'”

Viewership numbers for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio were disappointing.

NBC, which has the broadcast rights through 2032, suffered a ratings dip in Rio when it averaged 25.8 million viewers. The 2012 London Olympics drew an average of 31.1 million viewers.

The split affords other food vendors a chance to partner with the Games, including those with healthier offerings.

But Payne noted that ending the contract early is odd — especially in this case since McDonald’s has been such an important sponsor for so long.

Still, the company has undergone recent changes. A new CEO took over in 2015 and has focused on new features for customers like online ordering and delivery.

McDonald’s first became associated with the Games in 1968, when it delivered hamburgers to athletes competing in the Winter Games in Grenoble, France.

It’s been an official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Committee since 1976 and has operated restaurants in both the Olympic Park, where competitions take place, and in the Olympic Village, where athletes live, since the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

In 1984, McDonald’s ran a promotion called “When the U.S. Wins, You Win”: Any time an American athlete won a medal, Americans won food. American athletes were very successful that year and the program was extremely popular.

During the Rio Games, McDonald’s opened a dessert kiosk in the Olympic Park and sponsored 100 kids by sending them to the Games’ Opening Ceremony. a

While fast-food might not seem like a popular choice for Olympic-caliber athletes, the McDonald’s locations in the park and village were a big attraction, according to Lewicki.

“Our transactions in the athletes’ village are very significant,” he said ahead of Rio. “They look forward to us being there. Quite honestly, a lot of them it gives them a taste of home.”

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Olympics opening ceremony ratings slip for NBC

The Winter Olympics kicked off from Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Friday night and NBC saw just a slight drop in TV ratings from four years ago.

The primetime opening ceremony hosted by Mike Tirico and Katie Couric brought in a 16.9 overnight rating, according to the network. That’s a dip of about 8.6 percent from the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, which brought in a 18.5 rating.

All in all, a solid viewership for the network considering the influx of competition for eyeballs and the changing landscape of TV over the last four years. Not to mention, overnights don’t measure streaming numbers and Nielsen ratings only measure American viewership, not a worldwide audience.

The number was the highest Friday primetime overnight rating on any network since the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Nielsen takes the percentage of households watching in 56 US markets and comes up with an overnight average — which means that 16.9 percent of households in these markets tuned into the opening ceremony on Friday night.

Overnights for Pyeongchang also topped the opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio Summer games, which brought in a 16.5 and were the lowest overnight rating for a summer Olympics opening ceremony since 1992.

The overnight ratings also unsurprisingly nearly tripled the combined total of its competitors ABC, CBS and Fox.

NBC’s broadcast peaked around 9-9:15 p.m. ET with a 18.6 rating. This was when Team USA entered the stadium during the Parade of Nations.

The top five markets that tuned into the games were all west of the Mississippi: Salt Lake City, Denver, San Diego, Seattle and Sacramento.

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South Korean leader welcomes North Korean delegation to presidential palace

In an historic first, the South Korean President Moon Jae-in welcomed senior North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong, to Seoul’s presidential palace for a lunch meeting Saturday. The meeting is the most signifi…

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North Korea is winning the Olympics – and it’s not because of sports

The last time South Korea hosted an Olympic Games, the North went so far in its attempt to best the attention Seoul was getting that it drove its economy into perdition and its people into starvation.

North Korea spent billions to put on the World Youth Festival in July 1989, a year after Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics. Pyongyang refused to attend the 1988 Games and called for an international boycott, one that was albeit ignored by its Communist patrons in Beijing and Moscow.

Using the Festival as an opportunity to demonstrate its doctrine of self-reliance, North Korea hosted delegates from over 170 countries for a week of exhibitions, seminars, competitions and folk performances. It built a never-occupied 105-floor hotel, marble-lined subway stations, an Arc de Triomphe replica and a stadium seating 150,000 spectators. It imported over 1,000 Mercedes-Benzes to accommodate the influx of foreigners.

And while the Summer Games, precipitated by pro-democracy demonstrations and free elections marked a new era of success for South Korea, the 1989 Festival practically bankrupted North Korea months before Berlin wall fell, taking with it communism in much of eastern Europe and ushering in the end of the Cold War.

The withdrawal of food subsidies in the early 1990s from China and the Soviet Union, the disastrous effects of collective farming and major flooding followed by drought all led to food shortages and a subsequent famine that killed between 2 and 3 million North Koreans.

This time around however, the North has barely had to spend a dime. It might be the South’s Games, but Pyongyang has ensured it is commanding the spotlight.

Every snippet of news crossing the de-militarized zone, every glimpse of a North Korean athlete in Pyeongchang, or the arrival of a glamorous pop star, has captured the attention of a world hungry for details about life in the Hermit Kingdom.

“It’s pretty brilliant, and if it wasn’t Kim Jong Un and North Korea you’d have to admire what they’re doing, it’s pretty amazing,” said David Maxwell, associate director of the Center for Security Studies at the Walsh School for Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

“The North is masterful at getting something for nothing,” he told CNN. “They’re going to get recognition, legitimacy, resources, without giving anything up.”

From brinksmanship to one-upmanship

North Korean military parades, fantastical in their displays and sheer numbers, take months to prepare. It isn’t clear whether the one that occurred the very day before Seoul’s opening ceremony was scheduled to deliberately upstage the South’s moment in the global spotlight.

The regime usually holds parades in April to mark occasions like Army Day on April 25 and the anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder, on April 15. Last year’s military display was on a scale experts said they’d never seen before, and included missiles that raised “questions about the size and scope of Pyongyang’s ICBM ambition.” It heralded the start of a faster-paced testing schedule for North Korea’s weapons, which included the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile and, the regime claimed in September, a hydrogen bomb.

On Feb 8, military hardware was rolled out to celebrate a rarely-marked event, the day in 1948 when Kim Il Sung created the country’s armed forces out of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army.

But this year’s parade was a subdued affair, a marked contrast to the shows North Korea put on in April 2017. While ICBMs were part of the parade, there was no new technology or missiles shown off to the audience at home or those watching from abroad.

“I think the military parade is a sideshow, I think they’re calculating the resolve of the Western powers and any chance to drive a wedge between the South Korean people is a worthy exercise,” said Joseph Siracusa, professor of human security and international diplomacy at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

The North, he said, has nothing to lose with its Olympic gambit. It’s only task, he argues, is to look “normal.”

“If they come across as normal human beings, if they look normal and South Koreans treat them as normal, it’s a great diplomatic victory. It won’t solve a single problem though, as long as they continue with their nuclear weapons and ICBMs,” he told CNN.

The U.S. in the middle

Indeed the party looking most belligerent at the moment is the one Pyongyang is seeking to alienate from Seoul – the United States. Before arriving in the South to attend the Winter Games, US Vice President Mike Pence warned that Pyongyang’s charm offensive wasn’t fooling anyone.

“We will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games,” Pence said after meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Wednesday. “We’ll be there to cheer our athletes, but we’ll also be there to stand with our allies and remind the world that North Korea is the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet.”

On Thursday he visited the Yokota Air Base in Japan, whose troops likely be among the front line in a military confrontation with North Korea.

“As the Old Book says, ‘the soldier does not bear the sword in vain,’ and we will defeat any attack and meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with a response that is rapid, overwhelming and effective,” he said.

He also said there were more sanctions coming for Pyongyang, but didn’t outline what they would be.

For Seoul, the possibility of a dangerous dilemma

South Korea has rolled out the red carpet for the North, keen to avoid any escalation of hostilities at a time when people are already leery of traveling to the peninsula. In its willingness to accommodate the North Koreans, the South agreed to have its athletes march with their northern neighbors under a unification flag rather than its own national standard. It also suspended joint military drills with the US for the duration of the Games. Meanwhile, in the coastal town of Gangwon on Thursday, the North Korean flag was raised alongside the Olympic standard.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who, during his presidential campaign, said he wanted to be the leader “who built a peaceful relationship” between the two Koreas, will face a quandary of catastrophic proportions should a member of the North Korean contingent decide to defect to the South.

“The position that would put Moon in: Am I going to send that person back? That’s what the Chinese do. Or do I allow them to stay and suffer the wrath of the North?” Maxwell from Georgetown University hypothesized. “North Korea would have an excuse to scuttle any agreement, withdraw from the Olympics, accuse the South of kidnapping.”

Siracusa says the South is already on high alert. It has thousands of security forces providing protection for the Games. “They’re worried about an act of terrorism. They’re worried about a drone. They’re preparing. They’re looking for something to happen,” he told CNN. The South has mobilized at least 60,000 policemen, military and other forces to maintain security during the Games. A spokesperson for the Games told CNN that number also included 600 firefighters and 2,400 private security officers.

Parry, riposte

The stage for the next two weeks is set for more moments of one-upmanship. Pence is initiating his own propaganda push while he visits South Korea for the Games. He has brought along the father of Otto Warmbier, the American student who was jailed in North Korea and died upon his return to the US last year after suffering extensive brain damage. On Friday the pair met with North Korean defectors including Ji Seong-ho. Pence told the group that “we ourselves have stood and looked across that demilitarized zone, that line across which you fled. You fled to freedom.” He called Fred Warmbier “a great champion” for the freedom of the people in North Korea.

And US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka is scheduled to attend the closing ceremony, bringing her own quotient of glamor and celebrity to the proceedings.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un has sent his sister to attend the Games. The historic visit by the first ever member of the ruling Kim family to South Korea is being closely watched as the 30-year-old — blacklisted by Washington — is one of the most powerful people in the Hermit Kingdom.

Television footage of sporting events has been interspersed with scenes of buses pulling up and North Korea’s brightly-uniformed cheering squads and art troupes filing out. In between curling competitions the news that Moon was to meet with Kim Yo Jong took over the news cycle. Less than 24 hours later, the possibility of Moon being invited to visit her brother Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang itself captured people’s imagination.

As the Olympic program progresses, another competition plays out beside it in parallel. A charm offensive versus a propaganda drive, with nuclear ambitions at stake. What remains to be seen is whether any of the players will be ready for another round once the other Games are finished.

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Pence didn’t snub North Koreans deliberately, officials say

Vice President Mike Pence did not deliberately snub North Koreans at an Olympic reception, according to US officials who pushed back on South Korean reports that Pence deliberately came late to a VIP gathering Friday evening and then snubbed officials from Pyongyang.

Officials traveling with Pence to the 23rd Olympic Winter Games in South Korea were responding to reports that Pence had gone around a main table and greeted everyone except Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state. These officials said that while Pence did not greet Kim Yong Nam, he didn’t deliberately skip over him. Instead, they said, Kim simply wasn’t seated in the area where Pence was receiving well-wishers.

The officials said it was fair to say both Pence and the North Koreans rebuffed South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to facilitate a meeting between North Korea and the US.

North Korea has sent some of the highest level officials ever to the south for these games, the result of diplomacy by Seoul that led to an agreement between the two countries — still formally at war — to participate together in the Winter Games. Athletes from the two countries marched side by side during the opening ceremony and have formed a joint women’s hockey team.

But Pence has not let up on the tough rhetoric he’s been delivering since arriving in Asia. Speaking to NBC’s “Nightly News” on Thursday, the vice president continued to stress that the US would protect itself from North Korean nuclear threats by taking whatever “action is necessary to defend our homeland.”

Officials traveling with Pence said it would be fair to characterize his failure to interact with the North Koreans as a mutual decision, with neither side making any public overtures.

Pence was in close proximity to the North Korean party both at the VIP reception and later, watching the opening ceremony from Moon’s box, which included Kim Yong Nam and leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong.

That said, these officials said that if the North Koreans had approached Pence with pleasantries, he would have responded in kind.

As for sharing Moon’s box with the North Koreans, the officials said they knew in advance who was going to be in Moon’s box to watch the opening ceremony. They said Pence could have opted to sit with the US delegation and avoided the box that included the North Koreans.

The visual was important, a US official said.

“We wanted to show the alliance seated together,” the official said. “We wanted the North Koreans to see the vice president, Abe and Moon sitting directly in front of them for the opening ceremonies, and it would show that that alliance is strong.”

“At any moment, he could have gotten up and left and sat somewhere else, and then you would have had the image of North sitting in the box with South Korea and Japan,” the official added. “But he stayed there the entire time… and talked to Moon and Abe and their spouses, and the North Koreans sat in the back and didn’t talk to anybody, and that image is telling.”

Pence had said all week that if he met with the North Koreans, he would deliver a tough message. He also said the ceremonies were not the appropriate venue for serious talks.

Asked about criticism that Pence stood and cheered only for Team USA and stayed seated when the North and South Koreans marched in under a unified flag, the official was unapologetic.

“The vice present cheered for the team he’s rooting for. He cheered for the USA,” the official said. “That’s the team he’s going to be cheering for all Olympics. He wants them all to win medals. He’s biased for the Americans.”

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The 2018 Winter Olympics are here

It will be cold and colorful, dramatic and dangerous, exciting and emotional — the 2018 Winter Olympics is bursting into life in South Korea.

Some events have already begun, but an opening ceremony full of pride, passion, tradition and most probably a bit of politics will get the PyeongChang Games officially under way Friday.

Nearly 3,000 athletes from 93 countries are set to compete for a record of 102 medals across 15 different sports from February 9-25.

From the participation of Russian athletes in the wake of doping scandals, and icy Siberian winds potentially rendering it the coldest Games ever, to North Korea’s inclusion and free condoms, here are five things to know about PyeongChang 2018.

North Korea returns

When South Korea was awarded the Games in 2011, few would have predicted seven years later that close neighbor and bitter rival North Korea would be at loggerheads with a US president who happened to be the former star of a reality TV show.

And while US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — who have publicly traded barbs — won’t be at the opening ceremony, US Vice President Mike Pence and Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong will. That’s potentially awkward — Kim Yo Jong is officially blacklisted by the US Treasury Department.

Pence is being joined by the father of Otto Warmbier, a US student who suffered brain damage in a North Korean jail and died when he returned home last year.

North Korea is sending 22 athletes to the Winter Olympics to compete in ice hockey, ice skating and skiing — as well as a cheering squad. The nation wasn’t present in Sochi in 2014, but has been a regular at the Summer Games.

They will march together with the South Korea athletes at the opening ceremony under the Korean Unification Flag.

According to South Korea’s national news agency, it will be the 10th such occasion at an international sports event.

The countries will also unite in the women’s ice hockey with a combined team playing in blue jerseys emblazoned with “Korea” on the front. The unified team lost 3-1 to Sweden in a sold-out warm-up game Sunday near the capital of Seoul.

There is also a language divide — the languages are similar but not identical — with Korea’s Canadian head coach Sarah Murray trying to bridge the gap by formulating a three-page dictionary.

“They are all wearing the same jersey and we are on the same team now,” said Murray. “Hockey really does bring people together.”

‘Olympic Athlete from Russia’

Russia as a nation will not be present after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) instigated a ban in the wake of the McLaren report into state-sponsored doping, including at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Instead, 168 Russian athletes who were able to prove their clean credentials were invited by the IOC to compete as neutrals and individually will be known as “Olympic Athlete from Russia.”

They will wear a uniform with the OAR logo and will have the Olympic anthem played should they win a gold medal.

That number could rise depending on the latest judgement by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on more than 40 Russian athletes hoping to have their lifetime Olympic bans overturned.

However, this week the IOC refused to invite 15 Russian athletes and coaches despite CAS lifting their bans.

Barring a successful appeal, one of the most successful Olympic short-track speed skaters of all time, the South Korea-born Viktor Ahn won’t be allowed to participate.

No white elephant?

At every Olympics, it seems, stories abound about cost overruns, the future fate of stadiums and venues and whether that particular Games will break even. PyeongChang is no exception.

The cost of the Games is set to top about $10 billion, which includes the Olympic Stadium that will only be used for the opening and closing ceremonies.

The stadium is expected to be demolished when the Games are done, which at least means PyeongChang won’t have one of those white elephants, such as Montreal’s Olympic Stadium that was built for the 1976 Summer Games.

Plans to convert stadiums into schools in Rio after the 2016 Summer Olympics never materialized.

But if Brazilians are still waiting for the legacy of those Olympics to benefit them, former IOC president Jacques Rogge called Barcelona 1992, Lillehammer 1994, Sydney 2000, Beijing 2008 and Vancouver 2010 “success stories.”

Assessing London 2012, he wrote: “It may still be too soon to call them the greatest Games ever, but ask the same question again in 20 years and you might just get a ‘yes.'”

As of February 7, PyeongChang organizers said they had sold 842,000 tickets — 78.8 per cent of the total available.

“I expect to have around 150,000 people on the day of the opening ceremony and I anticipate around two million people to visit PyeongChang during the Olympics,” the mayor of PyeongChang County, Sim Jae-kook, told CNN.

The start of the torch relay on Nov. 1 plus the opening of a new high-speed train between Seoul and PyeongChang has helped, organizers added.

It will be cold!

While athletes are used to competing in the cold — be it outdoors or in — fans will have to find ways to keep warm at PyeongChang’s open-air venues.

At the opening ceremony — starting at 20:00 local time (06:00 EST) — the temperature is set to range between 28F (-2C) and 23F (-5C), according to the Korean Meteorological Administration’s news conference Wednesday.

There’s no roof or heating at the Olympic Stadium so attendees will be given blankets, seat warmers and hats.

The temperatures throughout the 17 days of the Games could make PyeongChang the coldest Olympics since Lillehammer, Norway in 1994, which experienced an unseasonably cold average high of 27˚F (-2.7˚C) according to Accuweather.

But if that doesn’t sound too bracing, you have to factor in the wind chill – freezing draughts blowing in from Siberia could regularly drop temperatures to as low as -13F (-25C).

“The Winter Olympics is supposed to be cold and I think we were able to host the Olympics because it’s so cold here,” said Sim.

A record will fall

If temperatures could be historic in PyeongChang, another record is also set to be broken. But this one has nothing to do with gold, silver or bronze.

Some 110,000 condoms will be distributed to the 2,925 or so athletes, 10,000 more than in Sochi and Vancouver.

It’s not unprecedented for all Olympic Games, though. At Rio in 2016, athletes were given 450,000 condoms, up from the 150,000 in London — although Summer Games do feature significantly more athletes.

Condoms were first publicly distributed at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, to reduce the spread of HIV. By Sydney in 2000, about 90,000 free condoms were given to athletes.

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