The International Olympic Committee is fiercely protective of its corporate partners, so much so that no brand that's not an official sponsor is permitted to be visible at any point during the Games. So how is it that Starbucks continually manages to sneak into Olympic villages, as it's done again this year? As the Wall Street Journal notes, it's a story of perks and addiction.
While McDonald's is the official coffee provider at the Sochi Olympics, there's a secret Starbucks, tucked away in the NBC Sports compound. It serves NBC's 2,500 on-site employees, and nobody else, a nice reminder of home. But every so often, somebody gets outside the compound carrying one of the classic green-mermaid cups, and the effect is akin to a feeding frenzy, with Starbucks-starved Sochi visitors begging to know the location of the secret shop.
More interesting info: the closest Starbucks to Sochi is more than 350 miles away. So the secret Starbucks is staffed by a rotating crew of 15 baristas imported from Starbucks locales all over Russia. That total is larger than the delegations of 57 nations, and considering the power that Starbucks wields, that seems appropriate.
Naturally, this has led to outsiders trying their best to get into the Starbucks facility, without much luck. Starbucks skirts the ban on non-Olympic-affiliated products by not opening its doors to the public or hinting at an Olympic association.
The allure of a beloved American symbol so far from home has been tough for some to resist, however. In one of the sadder moments of the WSJ article, a newspaper columnist carries around a Starbucks cup and fills it with vending-machine coffee: "It's a status symbol. It shows I'm not some kind of lowlife." (We hope that was sarcasm.)
Anyway, you know the rule: wherever on earth there's not currently a Starbucks, there will be soon. That clearly applies to Russia as well.