Magazine article American Banker

Sports Sponsorship Deals Keep Credit Cards Active

Magazine article American Banker

Sports Sponsorship Deals Keep Credit Cards Active

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrea Mckenna

The major card brands are revving up their sports sponsorships to get a piece of the fans' excitement about sports heroes.

Visa Inc., MasterCard Inc., Discover Financial Services and, most recently,American Express Co. say these sponsorships are less about attracting new customers than about nurturing their relationships with the ones they already have.

Megan Bramlette, director at Auriemma Consulting Group in Westbury, N.Y., said that this tactic, indeed, keeps customers loyal.

"Loyalty is super-important today," she said. "The priorities today are not really about acquisition; the focus is on maintaining your best customers by keeping them happy."

Sporting events historically have let the card brands do special things for cardholders, and "these experiences encourage customers to stay with a card brand," she said.

Examples of major sports sponsorships include Visa's worldwide partnership in the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament and its deal with the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. MasterCard highlights Major League Baseball, the rugby World Cup and UEFA Champions League soccer in Europe.

Amex in late December signed a three-year sponsorship deal with the National Basketball Association, and it has partnership deals with the U.S. Open tennis tournament and, in golf, with the U.S. Open and PGA Championship tournaments. Discover recently introduced several sports sponsorships, including with college football's Orange Bowl and the National Hockey League.

In the global arena, perhaps the biggest and most-watched sporting event is the FIFA World Cup, which this year was held in June and July in South Africa. Visa has its sponsorship locked in until 2014.

"Sports partnerships are ... about tapping in to consumer interest in the property and associating your brand with another brand and tapping that shared value," said Jennifer Bazante, Visa's head of global brand marketing. Soccer "is in people's lives every day, and Visa is as well."

More than 90 markets worldwide used Visa FIFA-themed marketing, and more than 500 financial institutions and merchants participated in advertising, customized promotions, point of sale signage and direct mail inspired by the sponsorship.

Visa was the only card accepted at World Cup venues in South Africa, a stipulation Visa also had for last winter's Vancouver Winter Olympics. Visa declined to reveal any data to show how its World Cup marketing campaign affected issuers and acquirers or to specify its goals for increased card use.

However, it reported that spending on Visa cards by visitors to the Vancouver Games totaled more than $115 million.

Last spring, the card network introduced the Visa Match Planner, an application that let users create World Cup viewing schedules to share with friends on social networking services such as Facebook Inc.'s website.

The Match Planner let users organize match-viewing parties at home or in bars, chat with friends online, track scores and standings and receive Visa offers from merchants such as the FIFA Official Store at FIFA.com.

"It's no longer about traditional media," Bazante said, "and it's important to take a more multimedia approach to deliver a message. Fans love to talk about teams."

MasterCard rivals Visa's sports sponsorships with soccer deals in Europe, Major League Baseball, rugby, team sponsorships in the National Hockey League, the National Football League and basketball leagues in the Baltic states of Eastern Europe.

The card network has had a longstanding relationship with international soccer. Its sponsorships with the UEFA Champions League in Europe and the UEFA Super Cup are both similar to a European World Cup, said Michael Robichaud, MasterCard's head of sponsorships.

"Soccer is such a local-global sport because it's the same game everywhere," he said. …

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