As director of global alliances for McDonald’s Corp., John Lewicki oversees the major pillars in the fast-food giant’s estimated $30-million-to-$35-million annual sponsorship portfolio, including international properties such as FIFA and the IOC, as well as U.S. ties such as the NHL and the Jamie McMurray-driven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entry fielded by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

IEG SR recently spoke with Lewicki about the chain’s approach to sponsorship, what it looks for when vetting ties, how it activates, and more. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

IEG SR: Why does McDonald’s sponsor? What do you hope to accomplish from a marketing perspective?

Lewicki: We use sponsorship to accomplish three business objectives. When we evaluate a sponsorship, we ask how it can help us accelerate our business initiatives, add credibility where we may not have any, and break through the competitive clutter.

It is not about brand awareness; we are ubiquitous around the world. This is more about reaching and talking to our target audience.

IEG SR: Who is your target audience?

Lewicki: With most properties, we focus on two targets: young adults between the ages of 18 and 34, and kids. We leverage property assets to support children’s physical activities and well being. There are more kids playing on sports fields across the world as result of our local and international involvements.

IEG SR: How about employees?

Lewicki: We activate the Olympics to engage employees. At the London 2012 Olympics we will build restaurants in the athlete’s village, the main media center and in the park. We have incentives for crews around the world to participate, and that will become our hospitality program.

Other companies may bring top sales people or customers to the Games. We focus on rewarding our own people.

We began building restaurants at the Games in a big way in 2002 in Salt Lake City and the program has built from there. At first, we were going to reward employees by sending them to the Games and hire local workers for the restaurants. The crews said, “If we are the best, why don’t we get to work?” As a result of that feedback, we built a hybrid program that allows people to work in the athletes’ village restaurants and have time off to enjoy the Games.

IEG SR: McDonald’s has long been an active sponsor. How has your sponsorship strategy evolved in recent years?

Lewicki: The quick-service restaurant category is very competitive and our approach has certainly evolved over the years.

Properties have to fit into one of the three screens I mentioned earlier. One of the obvious opportunities in sponsorship is to accelerate our business initiatives, and on that front recently we have been able to use properties successfully with the McCafe launch, both locally and nationally.

For example, in 2009 we partnered with New York City’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week as a strategic pillar when we launched McCafe. Fashion Week is about launching new product lines, so it made sense. McCafe is a high-end product for us, but it still has a value platform. We wanted to reach a unique target audience that may not typically think about us.

McCafe is a huge business initiative for us, and we continue to look at sponsorship opportunities as we expand the line to include espresso drinks, iced drinks and fruit smoothies. We continue to use properties to talk about our new entries in the marketplace.

IEG SR: Can you provide an example of how you are using an existing partnership to promote McCafe?

Lewicki: We are sampling products at this weekend’s NHL All-Star Game. We also sampled at the NHL Winter Classic. We try to bring sampling opportunities to tent-pole events that draw large crowds.

IEG SR: Speaking of which, can you discuss the decision to extend your partnership with the NHL in the U.S. for another season this year?

Lewicki: We have been with the NHL in the U.S. for three years. We expanded the partnership because we like what they are doing with the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game. It is a great association with youth hockey and kids, which is something that we wanted to tap into.

We are activating the All-Star Game with In the Lineup, around which 12 kids will be on-ice with the two teams’ starting lineups. It is an offshoot of the World Cup player escort program we initially developed in 2000 with FIFA.

We wanted to expand the program, and it works great with the NHL. We are also looking to run the program around NBC’s inaugural Hockey Day in America presented by McDonald’s on February 20.