While passing through Heathrow Airport, Instabill CEO Jason Field recently bought Olympic souvenirs for his family. The airport retailer told him that American Express's slogan, don't leave home without it, didn't apply there because the only credit card they could accept was Visa. It's a good thing Jason had cash in his pocket or else his children would have missed out.
If you plan on attending the 2012 Summer Olympics, you better plan on bringing plenty of cash. Visa Inc., a proud sponsor of the Olympic Games since 1986, changed the rules of buying at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The company is replacing the 27 ATM machines among the Games venues, which were capable of accepting MasterCard and American Express credit cards, with eight machines that will only accept Visa debit and credit cards. Excel Centre, Earl's Court, North Greenwich Arena, Wembley Arena, Wembley Stadium, Wimbledon, Old Trafford, St James' Park and the City of Coventry Stadium will have no ATMs at all.
And if you don't have a Visa debit or credit card? Sorry folks. You better start applying for one now. Visa is also restricting retailers and merchandisers from accepting any other card brand names.
"This is shocking," said Marc Gander of the Consumer Action Group. "It is a privilege to be a sponsor of the Olympics and they are abusing that privilege by exploiting consumers."
Among the several additional Olympics sponsors, Visa is the only one using its sponsorship as leverage. Samsung isn't banning iPhones. Cadbury isn't forcing everyone to eat its chocolate. BMW isn't turning away people arriving to Games venues in Chryslers. (Although, maybe we're onto something with the chocolate!)
Gander isn't the only one speaking out about Visa's decision.
"The Olympics do not belong to any sponsor, however much money they have paid for brand awareness," said Ron Delnevo of the UK Payments Council. "The Games are meant to be a celebration of the sporting prowess of men and women from every corner of our planet," he said. "Sadly, it seems that the ideals of the Olympics now take a back seat whenever they get in the way of needs of commercial sponsors."
Along with the eight ATMs, Visa will be installing thousands of point-of-sale devices as well as implementing its new contactless payment technology among all Olympics Games venues.