Visa and the Olympics: Sponsorship In Need of an Update

By Lesa Ukman Aug 10, 2012

Visa and the Olympics: Sponsorship In Need of an Update

Visa’s first Olympic sponsorship, signed in 1986 and launched with Calgary 1988, featured the iconic campaign: “Bring your Visa card, because the Olympics don’t take American Express.” This set in motion Visa’s ascension from number three to number one in the credit card category.

Twenty-six years on, the role of sponsorship has changed radically. Once a way to showcase product attributes, the role of sponsorship now is to deepen bonds with stakeholders by supporting and enhancing the events, causes and experiences they love (and love to share).

Visa’s enforcement of its Olympic payment monopoly, including removing all other ATMs from Olympic sites, does not enhance the fan experience.

Even if Visa’s contactless payment systems hadn’t broken down, and even if thousands of attendees hadn’t been told to pay in cash but found ATMs switched off by officials complying with the firm's sponsorship terms, the point is still critical: Sponsors should not throw their weight around or inconvenience people.

Not only does Visa enforce its Visa-only rights, its off-putting slogan “proud to accept only Visa” is plastered on payment kiosks, ATMs, etc.

Visa and the Olympics: Sponsorship In Need of an Update
Visa and the Olympics: Sponsorship In Need of an Update

“What a terrible thing to be 'proud' of…#visa #fail” ‏Tweeted @emilyrocks.
“What do #Visa add to the #Olympics?” @nick_pope wrote. “The inability for some to pay... #Fail.”

Under the headline: “Great Work Visa, Now I Hate You” one blogger wrote:

“…what did I do wrong to be banned from using my credit card in the largest touristic event in London in the past decade?  The marketers at Visa are probably more experienced than me, but I still want to give them a small marketing lesson: If you want people to like you, give them something. If you want people to hate you, take something away from them.” (You can read the full post here.)

Visa executives have said their $100 million sponsorship of Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 is designed with what it calls an “audience-first approach.” And its Go World ads and its invitations to Cheer for the Team are certainly big hits with the viewing audiences. Too bad it forgot about the fans at the event. 

The takeaways for everyone in sponsorship:

  • Sponsorship can hurt brands as much as help them
  • Just because you have a right, does not mean it should be exercised
  • Remember to ask: Does the presence of you/your sponsors’ enhance the experience?
  • Rightsholders should be fan advocates and tell sponsors when their plans are off the mark
  • Take a lighter touch


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