Discover Financial Services is taking competition to heart with two major sports-sponsorship deals, signaling a major change in its allocation of marketing dollars.

The sponsorship deals announced this month involve the National Hockey League and college football's Orange Bowl.

The Riverwoods, Ill., card issuer and network previously was involved smaller sports sponsorships, such as the Illinois High School Swimming Association, the WNBA and Arena Football. But despite the apparent change of strategy, said Jennifer Murillo, Discover's advertising director, it is just pursuing deals that reflect cardholder interests.

Through extensive consumer research, Discover determined that its cardholder base was passionate about college football and hockey, she said.

"These opportunities came to us at the right time," Murillo said in an e-mail Tuesday. "We were looking for ways to connect with" cardholders. "We saw college football and hockey as a great way to do that and to get out the message about all the great ways 'it pays to Discover.' "

The annual football game is to be called Discover Orange Bowl. In 2013, when it plays host to the Bowl Championship Series' final matchup, the game is to be called the Discover BCS National Championship Game. Discover succeeds FedEx Corp. as its sponsor.

In its U.S. sponsorship deal with the National Hockey League, Discover will be the official partner card of the league, its All-Star Weekend, Winter Classic, awards and entry draft. The card brand also is to be the presenting sponsor of the NHL All-Star Game.

One Discover cardholder will get the opportunity to spend a personal day with the Stanley Cup. Details of this event are still being worked out, according to Discover.

Delving into sponsorships more national in scope is a big move for Discover, one analyst said.

"Discover's entry in this is not shocking based on the fact that the competition already is doing sports sponsorships," said Megan Bramlette, a managing director at Auriemma Consulting Group. "What is interesting is that they have very consciously picked a couple of mass-market events."

Discover traditionally focuses on everyday spending instead of the affluent market some card issuers have tried to target, Bramlette said. "Offering value is a big thing for Discover, and I expect any message incorporated into those sponsorships to resonate with that," she said.

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