9 ways the Olympics push the limits of payments

The Olympics draw together fans from around the globe to cheer on their fellow citizens, and having such a diverse group of people in one spot can inspire companies to experiment with cutting-edge technologies.

These days, that means testing out wearable payments and mobile wallets within the confines of the Olympic Village. But there are other payment formats we take for granted today that attracted an early audience at past Olympic games.

This listicle is compiled from reporting by PaymentsSource writers including John Adams, Kate Fitzgerald, David Heun and Nick Holland. Click the links in each item to read more.

How the Olympics inspire innovation in payments
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The Olympics draw together fans from around the globe to cheer on their fellow citizens, and having such a diverse group of people in one spot can inspire companies to experiment with cutting-edge technologies.

These days, that means testing out wearable payments and mobile wallets within the confines of the Olympic Village. But there are other payment formats we take for granted today that attracted an early audience at past Olympic games.

This listicle is compiled from reporting by PaymentsSource writers including John Adams, Kate Fitzgerald, David Heun and Nick Holland. Click the links in each item to read more.
Visa sponsorship at the 2018 Winter Olympics
Logos for Visa Inc. and 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games are displayed on a screen outside the Gangneung Arts Center in Gangneung, Gangwon, South Korea, on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. With the Winter Olympics set to kick off in the alpine resort town of Pyeongchang, South Korea has welcomed a regime that only months ago was threatening to destroy it. Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg
How Visa turns the Olympics into a testbed for fintech
Visa frequently uses the Olympics to showcase new technology, and is using the ongoing Winter Olympics in PyeongChang to push wearable technology.

Visa and Lotte Department Store, a South Korean retail chain, are selling gloves with embedded Near Field Communication chips and stickers to power contactless payments. The gloves contain a dual interface chip and a contactless antenna that can make payments at about 1,000 Olympic venues and contactless readers in other markets. The mittens will have a prepaid value of KRW 30,000 or KRW 50,000 ($27 or $45).

Visa is also providing four pins with the Olympic logo that can be used to make payments on site, and eight designed wearable stickers.

Though the card brand is active in all of these efforts, it also relies on partners to provide the technologies it tests within the Olympic Village.
The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games mascot, Soohorang
A visitor poses for a photograph next to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games mascot, Soohorang, in front of Gangneung Station in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, South Korea, on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Gangneung, a vacation city near Pyeongchang, is the site of indoor events of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
Making noise about payments
Visa is introducing a suite of sensory branding using sound, animation and haptic (vibration) cues to help signify completed transactions in digital and physical retail payment transactions.

While adding sights, sounds and vibrations to payments may be seen as a little unnecessary, Visa backs up the importance of sensory branding in customer satisfaction and brand recognition with research. In a recently commissioned study by Visa fielded in eight countries, researchers found that 83% of consumers said the sound or animation cues positively impacted their perception of the Visa brand. A further 81% said they would have a more positive perception of merchants who used either the sound or animation cues.

Visa’s sensory branding will be available as a software development kit (SDK) on the Visa Developer Platform, and through the Visa Ready program for deeper integration requirements, in 2018. Visa is also developing pilot programs with a national merchant and point-of-sale hardware vendors for 2018.
Olympic Rings on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Visitors take photographs of the Olympic mascot, Vinicius, in front of the newly unveiled Olympic Rings on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Thursday, July 21, 2016. On Thursday, Brazil's federal police detained a group of Brazilian nationals who were allegedly plotting terrorist attacks for the Summer Olympics, which are set to kick off early next month in Rio de Janeiro. Photographer: Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg
Putting payments into Olympic rings
Going back to the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro, Visa gave out NFC-enabled pieces of jewelry to 45 Olympic athletes. The card brand proclaimed that it was the first tokenized payment ring, supported by 4,000 NFC-enabled payment terminals in and around the Olympic Village and nearby stores.

The NFC ring, designed by McLear & Co., contains a built-in secure chip manufactured by Gemalto and is only one of several wearables pushing to get to market.

NFC Ring, with offices in London and Boulder Creek, Calif., had not previously embedded a payment chip in its product. For the prior two years, NFC Ring was promoting its product as a way for consumers to unlock doors or mobile phones, or transfer information to other people.

But the company and its president John McLear worked with Visa to stitch together an NFC antennae that encircles the ring and also completed EMV testing. After the ring was ready to communicate with NFC readers, Visa went back to Gemalto to test cryptographic keys and prove its accuracy before approaching issuers to establish card credentials on the chip.

Competing products include the Kerv ring and the eventual Fitbit Ionic smartwatch, which ushered in Fitbit Pay when it debuted in 2017. At the time of the 2016 summer Olympics, Fitbit had just acquired the assets of Coin, a payments company that developed a multi-account plastic card.
Samsung Galaxy S III
An event staff demonstrates a Samsung Electronics Co. new Galaxy S III smartphone during the global launch event in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday, June 25, 2012. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
The birth of mobile payments
Wearable payments may still seem futuristic, but mobile wallets are more familiar. Back in 2012, however, smartphone-based payments were still an unproven concept.

The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games saw Samsung test the waters of mobile payments by offering a Near Field Communication-equipped mobile phone based on Visa payWave technology.

The Olympic-branded phones were being given to athletes and VIPs, and were not available to other attendees. However, the NFC-equipped payment terminals used throughout the Olympic Village would work just as well with other mobile wallets and contactless cards.

Though the focus was on the specialized Samsung handsets, the London games were just as much a testing ground for the concept of NFC payments in any format.
Olympic Village traffic pattern
Vehicles pass a reserved "Games Lane" which forms part of the Olympic Route Network, in Stratford, London, U.K., on Thursday, July 19, 2012. The first travel disruption from the Olympics came this week as athletes arriving at Heathrow hit traffic and special "Games Lanes" proved insufficient to compensate for London's overcrowded roads. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Faster payments beget faster deliveries
The Olympic Village brings with it a lot of new technology, but also new restrictions. As much as the venue encourages the use of new payment formats, London's Olympic Traffic Exclusion Zone also hindered the ability for companies to deliver purchases.

Before the 2012 London games began, Spire Payments announced plans to honor contracts and service agreements with its London customers by continuing payment terminal or PIN pad deliveries even when event security measures block vehicle traffic.

To this end, it hired the delivery personnel of CitySprint. This fleet of bike riders, joggers and rollerbladers allowed Spire to deliver products where cars cannot go.

In addition to being in retail stores, restaurants and hotels, Spire Payments terminals and self-serve kiosks are common at gas stations and car washes throughout London.
Visa Olympics ATM (London, 2012)
A pedestrian passes a Visa Inc. automated teller machine (ATM) at the Olympic Park in Stratford, London, U.K., on Tuesday, July 31, 2012. Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, the world's biggest maker of luxury cars, will let selected London Olympics visitors drive prototype electric scooters during the games as it accelerates expansion of its two-wheeler lineup. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Want to use cash? Your options are limited
One issue with the flood of new payments technology at the Olympic Games is that in some cases, it may feel like there's no other option.

This upset the United Kingdom Payments Council, which accused Visa Europe of removing or deactivating ATMs that had been in place on the Olympic grounds, thus forcing patrons to use Visa debit or credit cards for purchases.

There were still ATMs available in the Village, though these were reportedly fewer in number and all Visa-branded. Visa Europe (which later became reabsorbed with U.S.-based Visa Inc.) noted that cash was still accepted on-site and that it installs "thousands" of point-of-sale devices at every Olympics to encourage Visa card payments throughout the events. The Olympic-site ATMs accept only Visa cards.

“No ATMs will be removed, but some will be inactive for the duration of the Games, and some venues do not have existing ATM facilities,” a Visa spokesperson said ahead of the London Olympics. “Visa debit, credit and prepaid cards and cash will be accepted at all Games' venues.”
Coca Cola 2012 Olympics advert
Pedestrians pass an advert for Coca-Cola Co. as they cross a bridge between Stratford rail station and Westfield Stratford City shopping mall, next to the Olympic Park in London, U.K., on Wednesday, July 25, 2012. Surface-rail links to Stratford in east London, where the main Olympic stadium is located, were affected yesterday as rising temperatures caused rails to expand, prompting Network Rail Ltd. to impose speed restrictions. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
The card-accepting Coke machine comes to the Olympics
Coca Cola, another longtime sponsor of the Olympics, has used the venue to test new ways to sell its sodas.

Coca-Cola deployed vending machines that accept Visa payWave cards in the Olympic Village during the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games that open in Vancouver, British Columbia, giving contactless payment a worldwide stage to display its capabilities.

The company deployed 270 vending machines in the Olympic Village, and 280 other machines throughout Canada in high-traffic areas during the Olympic Games.

The games provided a test for the vending machines, including whether contactless cards increase sales and whether consumers are willing to use payment cards in different form factors.
Beijing 2008 Olympics hats
A vendor holds up a selection of hats that would fall in to the categotry of "fake" Olympic merchandise as she tries to sell them to passing tourists off Tiananamen Square in Beijing, China April 25, 2007. Natalie Behring/Bloomberg News Photo
How the Olympics enabled China's first bank-issued prepaid card
The 2008 summer games in Beijing brought an entirely new payment format to China — the bank-issued prepaid card — to allow foreigners into China's payment system.

The "Great Wall" card, offered by Bank of China and China UnionPay, was available only to tourists, who had to present their passports to obtain the card.

Though the bank planned to issue 50,000 cards, the effort was short-lived. By design, the cards were set to expire at the end of the Olympic games, with any remaining value refunded to the tourist.

Banks typically were not motivated to support prepaid in China, since issuers did not earn a transaction fee for those cards' use (the "Great Wall" card charged a 1% fee at signup).

Prior to the 2008 "Great Wall" card, the Shanghai Public Transportation Card debuted in 2003 for payments in and around the public transit system. The card had a chip and a magnetic stripe, but these were used for different payment systems and users found it too hard to manage the process of moving funds between them.
2008 Beijing Olympics tourist
A Chinese tourist poses while her mother takes a photograph near a new Olympic flower display in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China on July 30, 2008.
Eliminating the borders of digital commerce
The 2008 Olympic games were also a big deal for PayPal, which was aggressively pushing to build a customer base beyond its traditional core of eBay sellers (eBay owned PayPal from 2002 until 2015).

Seeking a way to attract foreign tourists who did not have China-issued payment cards, the Shanghai-based travel firm Ctrip.com began accepting PayPal payments. Other travel firms such as China International Travel Service, China Travel Service and China Youth Travel Service already accepted PayPal.

The decision wasn't just a bet on a one-time surge of travel for the Olympics; it also anticipated interest in the Shanghai 2010 World Expo, which ultimately drew over 73 million visitors from around the globe.