Further to decisions made by the European Commission and UK Office of Fair Trading in 2011, the only cards which UK consumers will be able to use to withdraw cash and purchase merchandise at official Olympic Games venues will be those issued by Visa – under the terms of a sponsorship agreement.
As part of its agreement with LOCOG to sponsor the Games, Visa has been awarded an exclusive mandate as the only payment choice for cash withdrawals and card purchases of merchandise at official Olympic venues. The deal, announced in 2010, attracted considerable public criticism. In particular, consumer group, Which? claimed that the deal served to discriminate against more than 40 million MasterCard and four million American Express card holders in the UK, arguing that it denied equal access to the games to UK holders of non-Visa cards.
Visa pointed to the amount of money it had invested in the Games as a sponsor, claiming that, “with the amount of investment we are putting in to the Olympics, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that we get some benefit out of it”.
After conducting what it called an “initial assessment” of the Visa sponsorship deal in so far as it conferred payment exclusivity on Visa for the purchase of official merchandise and the use of ATM machines at official Olympic venues, the OFT decided not to open a formal investigation, concluding that these aspects of the deal were unlikely to give rise to material consumer harm.
As part of this initial assessment, the OFT commented that a number of different means of payment will be available to consumers for the purchase of merchandise (cash and cheques will be accepted as well as Visa cards). It also referred to an informal commitment offered by Visa to ensure that pre-paid Visa cards will be available to consumers who wish to make purchases at consumer sites, and that a number of options will be available to consumers in relation to online sales of merchandise. For example, it will be possible to use the balance loaded on to any “Visa Virtual” cards during the ticket sale process (Visa Virtual is a pre-loaded virtual card specially created as a method of purchasing Olympics tickets over the internet for consumers who did not have a Visa payment card).
In parallel with the OFT’s initial assessment, the European Commission carried out its own review into Visa’s sponsorship arrangements with LOCOG insofar as they related to payment card exclusivity for the purchase of tickets for the Games. Like the OFT, the Commission, in deciding not to pursue its investigation, pointed to the availability of alternative sales channels, such as the Visa Virtual cards and the fact that consumers also had access to tickets through the National Olympic Committees, with whom Visa had not entered into any exclusivity agreements.