Happy Meals to hoops: McDonald's sports sponsorship time line

1955
This photo shows what started it all — the first McDonald’s franchise in Des Plaines, Ill.
First McDonald’s franchise opens on April 15 in Des Plaines, Ill.

1968
McDonald’s begins its Olympic support by airlifting hamburgers to U.S. athletes competing in Grenoble, France.

1974
McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc buys the San Diego Padres. The team remains in the control of the Kroc family until 1990 when Kroc’s widow Joan sells the team.

1976
Company becomes an official sponsor of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

1978
First high school McDonald’s All-American basketball game played at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

1981
With 11 seconds remaining, Michael Jordan hits both ends of a one-and-one to lead the East team to a 96-95 victory in the high school All-American game.

Founder Ray Kroc
1984
McDonald’s and its franchisees provide $3 million to build the McDonald’s Swim Stadium in Los Angeles for the 1984 Olympic Games.

1987
McDonald’s signs Michael Jordan as a spokesman.
The McDonald’s Open, annual exhibition games between an NBA team and international teams, is held. The Milwaukee Bucks win the tournament.

1990
McDonald’s begins an association with NASCAR with a fan-voted, all-star race team consisting of Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace.
McDonald’s becomes the NBA’s official quick-service restaurant.
Company and Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities join the NBA, NBC Sports, TNT, Nickelodeon Television and the U.S. Department of Education on the “NBA All-Star Stay in School Program.”

1991
McDonald’s sponsors Willy T. Ribbs as he becomes the first African-American to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

1993
McDonald’s releases a commercial during the Super Bowl with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in a showdown game of H-O-R-S-E. The commercial is later voted one of the best sports commercials and Super Bowl commercials of all time.
Company joins Junior Johnson’s race team as a primary sponsor in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. McDonald’s also becomes the “Official Drive-Thru of NASCAR.”

1994
McDonald’s named title sponsor of the LPGA Championship.
Company becomes the official restaurant of the FIFA World Cup. The relationship is continuing through the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

1995
The McDonald’s Open is now known as the McDonald’s Championship. The NBA champion will represent the NBA and play against other international championship teams from around the world.

1996
McDonald’s becomes the first branded restaurant to operate inside an Olympic Village, doing so at the Games in Atlanta.
McDonald’s becomes primary sponsor for Bill Elliott’s race car in the Winston Cup Series and Joe Gibbs Racing’s drag racing teams.
The company contributes $5.5 million to renovations of Alexander Memorial Coliseum at Georgia Tech.
McDonald’s sponsors the NBA 2ball basketball skills competition for boys and girls ages 9-17.
Dennis Rodman signs an endorsement deal with McDonald’s.

1997
McDonald’s distributes NBA all-star ballots in more than 12,000 restaurants.

1998
McDonald’s becomes a worldside Olympic sponsor. To mark the 30th anniversary of its involvement with the Olympics, McDonald’s distributes collectible Olympic pins to athletes daily in the village in Nagano, Japan, with a different design for each of the 16 days of competition.
McDonald’s is title sponsor of NHL all-star fan balloting in Canada.
Bank One Ballpark becomes the first major league facility in the United States to have a McDonald’s inside it.
The Townsville Crocodiles of Australia’s National Basketball League adopt the McDonald’s name after the company signs a naming-rights deal.
McDonald’s helps fuel the home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire by signing the athletes to endorsement deals.

1999
The PPI racing team in the NASCAR Busch Series names McDonald’s its primary sponsor.
McDonald’s releases a series of commercials paying tribute to past Olympians and their historic performances.

2000
McDonald’s is the official food service partner for the Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

2001
McDonald’s signs Kobe Bryant to a three-year endorsement deal.

Annika Sorenstam holds the trophy for the 2003 McDonald’s LPGA Championship.
2002
Madison Square Garden plays host to the first McDonald’s high school All-American girls basketball game and the 25th All-American boys game.
McDonald’s extends its Olympic marketing rights through the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece.
Company becomes an official sponsor of the Women’s United Soccer Association.

2003
First high school McDonald’s All-American boys and girls soccer games played in Charleston, S.C.
McDonald’s signs a three-race deal with CART’s Newman/Haas Racing as the co-primary sponsor of the team’s No. 2 entry of Sebastien Bourdais.
ESPN’s inaugural X Games Global Championship announces McDonald’s as a top-level sponsor.
Sponsorship of the Association of Volleyball Professionals tour is announced.
McDonald’s sponsors the first NASCAR Drive-Thru Pit Championship.

2004
NBA star Yao Ming signs a multiyear global partnership with McDonald’s. Yao replaces NBA player Kobe Bryant as a spokesman for the company.
McDonald’s becomes a sponsor of the first NBA China Games, featuring two preseason games between the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings in Shanghai, China.
McDonald’s launches a series of Go Active! fitness initiatives with athletes worldwide.
McDonald’s becomes the official fast-food restaurant of the Champ Car World Series through 2006.
Company announces the renewal of its worldwide Olympic TOP sponsorship for the 2006-2012 “double quadrennial.”
Tampa Bay Lightning signs a deal giving McDonald’s naming rights to the St. Pete Times Forum’s ticket office.
McDonald’s celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Happy Meal with sports stars Vince Carter, Venus and Serena Williams, Tony Hawk, Michael Vick, Mia Hamm and Tony Stewart and a collection of ESPN25-inspired mini-handheld sports video games.

2005
Company launches a line of throwback jerseys from the McDonald’s All-American game.
Company signs a Busch Series sponsorship deal with Team Rensi and a Nextel Cup deal with Evernham Motorsports, but does not renew its contract with NASCAR as official drive-through and sponsor of the Drive-Thru Pit Championship.
McDonald’s sponsors the 2005 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game in Denver.

Research by Brandon McClung
Sources: McDonald’s Corp., SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily archives, the leagues, NASCAR