Experts estimate that the Toronto Raptors run to the NBA finals has cost McDonald's nearly $6 million in French fries

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As food industry insiders know all too well, any giveaway is potentially fraught with peril. Even if you’ve planned for the unlikeliest of outcomes and spent millions on contingency planning, something unexpected can still scupper the whole operation. This can happen if you’re a small independent operation, or a massive international business with years’ of experience. There’s just no telling when fate may step in. This year, it’s McDonald’s who are on the receiving end.

12 months ago, the world’s most famous fast food franchise unveiled plans for a partnership with unfancied NBA team, the Toronto Raptors. The relationship was supposed to revolve around a risk-free giveaway - every time the team successfully converted 12 three-pointers in a game, the company would give away free medium French fries at its restaurants across Ontario. Given that the Raptors’ star player was an “infamously reticent 3-point shooter”, according to SB Nation reporter Mark Plumlee, it seemed unlikely that the goodwill gesture would prove costly.

However, just days after signing the agreement with McDonald’s, the Raptors’ entire approach changed. Instead of sticking with their nervy shooter, they opted to bring in experts Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, giving the team a completely different dynamic. Where once they had been vulnerable, the Raptors were now imperious. And McDonald’s were about to pay the price.

Instead of the estimated 700,000 free giveaways that the business had anticipated, McDonald’s have been forced to serve more than 2 million portions of medium French fries over the course of 2018/19. Coming at an average cost of $2.89, the promotion is believed to have cost the business almost $6 million - significantly more than they were expecting at the start of the season.

The situation was first highlighted by Financial Post reporter Jake Edmiston, who stated that the problem wasn’t just with the Raptors’ improved firepower. In an article for the paper, Edmiston wrote that “McDonald’s didn’t underestimate the Raptors so much as it did the appetite for free fries in Ontario.”

However, Edmiston also states that it isn’t all bad news for the business. According to multiple conversations that he has held with McDonald’s insiders, the feeling is that getting people into restaurants with the promise of free food will ultimately pay dividends and help develop brand loyalty. As Canadian franchisee Mike Forman told Edmiston, “We believe it will pay off in the future.” While this may be true, for the time being, McDonald’s are just going to have to grin and bear it as the Raptors march on.