When sponsorship is counterproductive

Posted by Marty Brochstein on March 15, 2011

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I’ve often heard discussions of instances when sponsorship and licensing butted heads, but had never really been conscious of running into one as a consumer. Then came my journey to Brand Licensing Central & Eastern Europe earlier this month.

I was passing through Heathrow airport, including killing some time in the still gleaming Terminal 5 that houses British Airways. I’d read about the recently opened London Olympics 2012 shop and wanted to see it for myself. It looked like a nice presentation from the outside, and I went in to buy a couple of t-shirts. Made my selection quickly, noted the other merchandise, and went to pay… with my MasterCard.

I was quickly informed at the register that it was Visa, cash or nothing. At that point I only had U.S. currency (I was on my way from New York to Budapest, just changing planes at Heathrow) along with a MasterCard and Amex, so no sale. It was only while I was standing outside the store a few minutes later that I noticed a placard below counter level, which I believe, said that the store was proud to accept Visa — a subtle way of saying “No Other Cards.”

I understand Visa’s place as Olympic sponsor, and can see the merit in having Visa as the only card onsite at the games themselves. But in an airport store more than a year in advance of the event? Forget the minuscule revenue involved (and even the early information about what kinds of designs are selling well). All this did was leave a confused and somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. Again, I understand the Visa sponsorship; I daresay that a host of other consumers don’t and will be even more taken aback than I was.

This has nothing to do with the licensing team, but it struck me as something that doesn’t leave anyone feeling good about London 2012 or even Visa. Does this make sense?