Thursday, 24 June 2010

You Must Switch Cards To Pay For London Olympics

I see that finally the competition authorities are looking at Visa's exclusive arrangement for the Olympic Games. I can well imagine that neither the Canadian nor Chinese authorities were as concerned as the European Commission and the UK's Office of Fair Trading. Visa is far better known to European competition authorities.

The BBC reports that:
"Visa is the dominant debit card supplier in the [UK] with 53 million customers compared with 17.5 million for Mastercard.

In credit cards, Mastercard has more customers with 36 million holders, compared with 22 million for Visa."
Of course, "dominant" has its own technical meaning under competition law, but you can see that even allowing for overlap amongst customers with both kinds of cards (poor Amex, JCB etc don't even rate a mention by the BBC), a lot of people may be frustrated at not being able to use a card to buy tickets and items at the Games themselves.

I have no trouble with the general principle that the Olympic Committee can grant exclusive deals with the aim of raising more money to help stage the Games. After all, being forced to switch soft drinks, beers or hamburgers for the day is no great hardship. But I do have a problem when that has the effect of requiring consumers to alter something as fundamental as their banking and/or credit arrangements, which may prove impossible or impracticable for many. That is similar to granting the Olympic television rights exclusively to a subscription-only television network.

A step too far.

In marketing terms, the arrangement may provoke something of a backlash (watch this space, for example). It may appear insensitive to impose an exclusive payment arrangement that obliges financially-stretched consumers to alter their banking and credit arrangements in these troubled times. And you would have thought that an event so massively undewritten by public funds should welcome payment in any of the generally accepted ways that any person can access and afford.
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