Visa about to Strike Big-League Sponsorship Deal
Coulton, Antoinette, American Banker
Visa probably won't make the Opening Day lineup, but its pitch to become Major League Baseball's official card brand is likely to succeed.
San Francisco-based Visa U.S.A. has been talking with baseball officials since last fall, and although sources say a deal is near, the two parties do not expect to sign a sponsorship agreement before the season begins on April 1.
Major League Baseball has not had an official credit card sponsor since 1991, when its alliance with MasterCard International ended. James Andrews, vice president of IEG Sponsorship Report, a Chicago newsletter, said Visa would pay $25 million to $50 million to become the official card brand.
At the same time, MBNA Corp. is waiting in the wings, prepared to sign a deal with the league to issue a Major League Baseball credit card.
Baseball is the only major professional sport that doesn't have a card sponsorship agreement with Visa, MasterCard, or American Express Co. Visa appears to be the lone bidder.
The appeal for Visa and MBNA is clear: Professional baseball is big business. In 1996, attendance at major league games was nearly 60 million representing about $720 million in ticket sales, said Major League Baseball spokesman Ricky Clemons.
What's more, fans are big spenders when it comes to Major League Baseball merchandise. Financial World magazine pegged total merchandising and licensing receipts for the 1995 season at $61 million.
"If Visa gets this deal, they will have the edge in league sponsorships -football and baseball are the sports that Americans follow," said James L. Accomando, president, Accomando Consulting Inc., in Fairfied, Conn.
The run on major professional sports sponsorship deals began in 1995, when Visa hooked up with the National Football League. MBNA kept pace with Visa when it won the right to issue Visa's official NFL card.
American Express netted a National Basketball Association sponsorship in 1995, while MasterCard International cornered the National Hockey League. A year later, Purchase, N.Y.-based MasterCard announced sponsorships of Major League Soccer and the Professional Golfers Association tour. …