Visa's high-profile TV campaign for the London 2012 Olympics, like the commercial featuring Michael Phelps, carry the tagline, "People everywhere go with Visa." But what that doesn't tell you is that people everywehere at the London Olympics go ONLY with Visa.
That's because every one of the ATMs at the Olympic games accepts only Visa cards. It gets worse: There are only eight — count 'em, eight — ATMs across all of the London Olympic venues, according to the UK's This is Money. In fact, an agreement with Visa led to the removal or disabling of twenty-seven other ATMs.
Basically, that means anyone attending the Olympics without a Visa card needs to bring cash. To speed purchases — in keeping with the brand's London 2012 ambassador Usain Bolt — Visa instituted a contactless payment system, so visitors can wave their Visa card at a payment terminal to get food and souvenirs, or in one a few of London's iconic black cabs.
But on July 29 at Wembley, where Great Britain was playing the United Arab Emirates in football, aka soccer, the system went down. As a result even Visa cardholders were left out in the cold — which is not entirely unusual for Londoners to feel, but still.
The payment dilemma, plus the public relations nightmare of an insufficient number of ATMs accepting only Visa cards, was essentially the cause of the sponsorship agreement between Olympics officials and Visa.
Ron Delnevo, Director of the UK Payments Council and Managing Director of Bank Machine, commented: "What is most shocking about this Olympian-level blunder is that a bizarre payments monopoly was imposed in the first place. Forcing existing ATMs at Olympic venues to be switched off, whilst foisting gimmicky contactless payments systems on unsuspecting spectators, was always a recipe for disaster. It's no surprise that only a few days into the Games, we're seeing the system start to crumble."
Visa, for its part, said the failure of the contactless payment system was Wembley's fault. A spokesperson told This is Money that "98 percent" of UK cardholders have Visa cards, but the company did not indicate the percentage of international visitors to the Olympics who would have Visa cards.
Given the brand's ATM monopoly at these Olympics, it should not be surprising that total spending on Visa accounts in the UK during the London 2012 Olympic Games through Week 2 is more than $1.4 billion, with $716.7 million coming in the second week alone, according to Visa. (This amount, however, represents spending throughout the UK.)
Here is Visa's list of the top ten countries, by spending, during the second week of the Olympics — which beg the question, so where are all those UK Visa cardholders?
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