More FIFA Soccer, Less of its Official Sponsor

by Lorien E. Menhennett

Lionel Messi

Unlike an estimated 3 billion people worldwide, I’m a lukewarm soccer fan, at best. Nothing against the sport, I just never got into it. (Though I have to admit, watching Lionel Messi’s goal against Bosnia on Father’s Day – with my dad, of course – was pretty incredible. I could see soccer growing on me.)

But that’s besides the point. What interests me about the World Cup at this moment, and about other worldwide sporting events like the Olympics, is event sponsorship. Not as a marketer, mind you, but as a viewer, consumer, citizen, and future physician. I get that only heavy business hitters like McDonald’s can afford the $20 million it costs to be the World Cup’s sponsor and official restaurant. (The 2014 Sochi Olympics, by the way, marked the tenth consecutive games with the Golden Arches as official restaurant.) I also get that these sporting events cost money to run. I get that sponsorships help make them happen. What I simply cannot understand is why it’s acceptable to link fast food with fitness activities.

Take one look at any of these chiseled players (Ronaldo? Fabiano? Casillas?), and you and I both know that they don’t eat at Mickey D’s on a regular basis. But you and I are adults. I’m less concerned about adult viewers. They are adults, after all, and should be able to make their own decisions when it comes to food. As in, whether to eat quality or crap. To be completely honest, I don’t always make good food choices. I’ve even been known to eat at McDonald’s (please don’t tell my internist). But it’s always a conscious choice. My choice.

What bothers me is the insidious message that junk food sports sponsorship sends to children – children who are impressionable, both physically and psychologically. For kids around the world, soccer is religion, the players their idols. When kids start associating crispy chicken with corner kicks, or French Fries with their favorite midfielder, there’s a serious problem. It’s not just soccer, either. It’s football (American football), baseball, and hockey. The list goes on. I’m not saying this is the cause of our country’s childhood obesity epidemic – that would be dangerously simplistic. But it certainly doesn’t help the situation.

Obesity is no joke. And being healthy is not just about looking nice in a bikini. Both of these messages seem lost on a great many people, adults and children alike. I’m not suggesting anyone boycott McDonald’s (or the World Cup). What I am saying is let’s be real about this. Discuss it. Because none of it – not the obesity, and not the junk food sponsorship – is going away on its own.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on childhood obesity:


  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.

Health effects

  • Children who are obese are more likely to have problems with sleep apnea, bones, and joints, as well as self-image. They are also at higher risk for prediabetes.
  • Childhood obesity increases the risk for being obese as an adult.
  • Adult obesity is associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and arthritis.