With the World Cup not yet over eyes have already turned to the Olympics in London in 2012. Only today, according to the BBC, Which?, the consumer body, criticised LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, over its deal with card firm Visa which prevents British sports fans using other credit cards to buy tickets and goods at Olympic venues.

Which? has been quoted as saying it is “outrageous” that British Olympic fans will not be able to pay for tickets by MasterCard or other cards or withdraw cash at any Olympic sites unless they have a card which runs on the Visa payment system. Outrageous is the right description in my view too. The issue of exclusivity deals such as this comes back to my earlier arguments about the dangers of overly aggressive enforcement of sponsors’ rights generally. It also raises questions over consumer rights, but from a marketing perspective, brands are in danger of damaging their reputation rather than enhancing it.

Naturally in this case London 2012 say they are looking at other payment methods for tickets, but  remarkably states on its website “London 2012 will also welcome cash and cheques. However, to enjoy the benefit of the quickest and easiest means of payment, see below on how to apply for a Visa card.”

Astonishingly the site then goes on to explain to customers how to apply for a Visa card, saying “the easiest way to obtain a Visa card is to contact your existing bank which will be able to help you to select and apply for a Visa card that most suits your needs. Alternatively anyone can purchase a Visa prepaid card from a Visa card issuer which can be used immediately. Please visit the Visa website for details.”

Surely this is a step too far?  The London Olympic organisers have defended the Visa deal raising the same old tired argument that they would not be able to raise the funds to stage the Games unless they offered such exclusive agreements to corporate sponsors. This was the argument raised when the London Olympic Association Rights, (LOAR), was introduced, which will prevent any business from associating itself with the 2012 Games unless it is an official sponsor.

Why does this matter to other brands? Well brands need to realise that overly aggressive behaviour as an exclusive sponsor can backfire. Consumers don’t like being forced to use a Visa card when they already have a Mastercard and perhaps another credit card like American Express. It is one thing to have exclusive advertising rights around the Olympic venue, but not being able to purchase any tickets or any items at  Olympic venues with one’s own credit card is another matter altogether. The argument that one could pay by cheque or cash really is ludicrous.

The reality is that many potential buyers will struggle to obtain tickets. The exclusivity arrangement apparently also means visitors to the Games will not be able to withdraw cash from ATMs or make purchases at any Olympic sites unless they have cash: the ATMs and payment terminals are also restricted to Visa cards! While London 2012 may choose to argue this sort of exclusivity is normal, I would beg to differ and I again warn brands that that whether it is normal or not it is causing considerable bad publicity.

This argument will be one of many to come. Its a long road to the 2012 Games and many brand owners will be surprised to learn of the extent of the particularly draconian restrictions preventing any association with the Games. We are bound to see more enforcement of exclusive deals on behalf of the official sponsors, so watch this space and don’t forget to check our Olympic Guidance Note on the do’s and don’ts for marketers.

For the time being on the Visa card issue Which? has said sought assurance from London 2012 Committee that it will take steps to ensure that UK consumers have equal access to the Games, whether or not they are Visa cardholders. If it doesn’t, Which? has allegedly stated that it will call on the government to step in.