Why can I only use a VISA Card to buy tickets for the London Olympics?

The 2012 London Olympics

The 2012 London Olympics is an event which is coordinated by the two following bodies:

  • The International Olympic Committee (IOC) – the world governing body for the Olympics
  • The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) – the organising committee for the event when it is held in London

The Ticketing for the 2012 London Olympics

The two bodies mentioned above will be the two bodies which coordinate all aspects of the ticketing side of the event. For example they will decide on the allocations of tickets to various groups and the channels through which the general public will be able to gain access to the tickets.

The Official Sponsors of the 2012 Olympic Games

There are various sponsors of the Olympic Games when it is to be held in London. These companies will have paid vast amount of sums for the privilege to be associated with the event on an exclusive basis.

What is meant by an exclusive basis?

The meaning of an exclusive basis is that the specific sponsor will be the only sponsor which is able to supply their goods to the individuals attending the event. For example if the event is sponsored by a drinks company then that company will be the only one which is able to provide drinks on site to the individual’s attending the event. They are effectively paying for the right for their product to be sold and excluding their competitors to the market.

Is VISA an official sponsor of the 2012 London Olympics?

VISA is one of the official sponsors of the 2012 London Olympics.

What does this mean?

As VISA will wish to gain exclusivity for the use of their products following the sponsorship agreement it follows that UK based fans will only be able to buy tickets for the games using VISA’s payment system. Furthermore when fans are actually at the event the only credit or debit card which they will be able to use for the event is one supplied by VISA.

Is this system fair?

Many consumers would argue that this system is simply not fair as it is restricting the availability of tickets to those people who have a VISA card meaning that if individuals do not have a card they only way to get tickets would be to first obtain a VISA card. This seems immediately unfair.

However, this does have to be balanced against the needs of the company who have paid substantial amounts in sponsorship fees for the event in order to be associated with it. If the credit and debit cards of their competitors could be used then this would weaken the rights of their sponsorship agreement.

Is it legal for conditions such as this to be imposed on consumers?

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is currently looking into this matter along with the European Commission. They are in discussion together concerning these issues and are going to make a decision concerning what action, if any, should be taken.

On what grounds could a legal case be found?

The area of law which would be concerned with an agreement between a sporting governing body, organising committee and a corporation would be that of competition law.

Competition law is concerned with the creation of a free market to ensure that consumers have available to them the best available products at the best available prices.

Which aspect of competition law could this be in breach of?

Both European Union and United Kingdom law prohibit agreements which have a detrimental impact upon competition preventing consumers from being able to access the best products at the best prices.

If the agreement effects trade between European Union Member States it will be prohibited by Article 81 EC. If the agreement is simply concerned with the UK market it will be prohibited by Chapter 1 of the Competition Act 1998.

Would this fall within either Article 81 or Chapter 1?

An agreement to provide exclusivity to one company thus restricts other companies’ ability to gain access to the market and can have a detrimental impact on the rights of the end consumer. There have been many situations whereby exclusivity agreements fall foul of this legislation – for example the exclusivity agreements between the FA Premier League and BskyB for the broadcasting of Premier League football matches.

Is a challenge likely to be brought by the Office of Fair Trading?

A spokesman from the 2012 London Olympics has stated that this is not a new system and has been in use during the 2008 Olympics and the 2010 Winter Olympics whereby VISA was the official card and payment system.

Whether this falls foul of competition law may well depend upon the wording within the terms and conditions. If it states that VISA is the “preferred supplier” and its use is encouraged but there is also the ability to use another card then it is likely that the OFT will not bring a challenge.

However, if only VISA cards can be used the OFT may well decide to bring a challenge in conjunction with the European Commission.