MBNA Corp. is adding a Bally Total Fitness Visa card to its cadre of cobranded programs.
The fitness center operator previously offered cards to its members through Metris Cos., but that two-year-old partnership ended in August, said Michael Karoff, vice president of new product marketing for Bally.
An upscale card is more appropriate for Bally's cobranding program, Mr. Karoff said, "but Metris doesn't compete in that market."
"MBNA is the expert in customer satisfaction and relationship management," he said.
Chicago-based Bally, with 360 facilities in 27 states, also offers a downscale product through Renaissance Holdings Inc., a Portland, Ore.-based marketer of subprime cards. For three years Renaissance has offered credit cards to Bally members who finance the $1,200 one-time membership fee. Bally had tested a similar product with Providian Financial Corp. in 1994.
About 150,000 of Bally's four million members carry a card issued by Renaissance's subsidiary, Orchard Bank. Mr. Karoff described these members as young people with weak credit histories. The Visa cards issued by MBNA are meant to appeal to Bally's customers who are generally more creditworthy.
Mr. Karoff said about 20% of Bally Total Fitness members are candidates for an Orchard Bank card, which, unlike the MBNA product, does not carry the Bally logo.
Bally's arrangement with two credit card issuers is unique in the world of cobranding, even though the Orchard cards do not carry the Bally logo, industry experts said.
Irving Levin, chief executive officer of Renaissance Holdings, predicted that more deals will be structured this way as the card market becomes more niche-oriented.
"We have two different markets that these programs are being offered to," Mr. Karoff said. "And we have two different organizations with unique strengths."
Renaissance is being bought by Household International Inc., which has announced its intention to be a big player in the subprime market.
The Bally/MBNA card enables cardholders to earn points toward membership dues and Bally merchandise.