From an athletic point of view, the stakes on Thursday night are clear. It is Game 6 of the N.B.A. Finals, and the Toronto Raptors have their second chance in four days to clinch the franchise’s first title.
But there are greasier implications.
In what has become something of a ritual, McDonald’s locations across Ontario are preparing to give away tens of thousands of orders of French fries depending on how many 3-point shots Toronto makes.
At the start of the season, McDonald’s began a marketing campaign that promised medium-size orders of French fries at the fast-food franchise’s locations in Ontario each time the Raptors made at least 12 3-pointers in a game. Based on preseason estimates, it expected to distribute around 700,000 free orders over the course of the season.
The caloric count has been much higher. The Raptors have made more than 12 3-pointers in 54 games this season, including twice during the finals, and McDonald’s has given away more than two million orders of fries. (The fast-food chain would not reveal the cost of the promotion, but the average price of a medium-size order of McDonald’s french fries in Canada is $2.89, which would put the total cost of the giveaway around $5.8 million.) After the Raptors made 13 3-pointers in Game 1 of the finals, McDonald’s locations in Ontario gave out 80,000 orders of French fries in a single day.
Despite the unexpected size of the giveaway, McDonald’s considers the promotion a major success, said Chuck Coolen, the company’s head of marketing in eastern Canada. Customers have to download the McDonald’s mobile app to get the fries, and many end up buying drinks or sandwiches to go along with them.
“This is really cool in terms of what it’s doing for our brand,” said Mike Forman, who oversees four McDonald’s locations in Whitby, Ontario. “The Raptors right now are the biggest conversation in Canada. Financially, this is a slam dunk, if you pardon the pun.”
At a McDonald’s on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto, several extra employees join the evening shift on game nights to take orders and help out in the kitchen, said Fathema Yeda, who manages the restaurant.
“Everybody is prepared,” Ms. Yeda said. “They know it’s a game night, and we bring on the spirit.”
Last season, the Raptors made an average of 11.8 three-point shots per game, making 12 or more in 43 of their 82 regular-season games. They were then swept in the Eastern Conference semifinals by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But the arrival of star players, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, has transformed the team from an underdog to one that is, somewhat surprisingly, a win away from the championship. And “Raptors fever” has gripped Canada.
McDonald’s has had major marketing campaigns tied to sports results before. Before the 1984 Olympics, the fast-food giant announced it would give away food items every time the United States won a medal. The only problem: the Soviet Union was boycotting the Games, eliminating the Americans’ major competition. The United States team won an astounding 174 medals (including 83 gold) that summer, and some McDonald’s franchises reportedly ran out of Big Macs.
On a much smaller scale, a bar in Miami this week promised customers a free shot every time the United States women’s soccer team scored a goal in its World Cup match against Thailand. The United States team won 13-0.
Still, sports promotions remain a “very efficient and powerful means of connecting with consumers” for fast-food companies, said Aaron Allen, the chief executive of Global Restaurant Consultants. “Generally, they’ve got such big pocket books that if something happens, they can weather it.”
Not every McDonald’s location in Ontario has been affected by Raptors fever. Dianna Hay, 46, manages a McDonald’s in the small Francophone town of Hearst in northern Ontario, and said she had not experienced a major surge of customers chasing free fries. Still, Ms. Hay said she planned to follow the game on television — as long as the Raptors were ahead.
“I switch between it and a couple of other shows,” she said. “It depends on whether they’re losing or winning. You don’t want to be disappointed.”