In a bid to raise its visibility nationwide, Fleet Financial Corp. said Monday it has signed a three-year pact to sponsor Major League Baseball.

Terms were not disclosed, but IEG Sponsorship Report, a Chicago newsletter, estimated the contract could cost Fleet $2 million annually. As one of 17 corporate sponsors, the Boston-based banking company has the right to advertise during certain time slots in the regular season and during the All-Star game each July. Fleet is expected to spend $4 million to $5 million on its ad campaign, IEG said.

Terrence Murray, chairman and chief executive officer of Fleet, said the sponsorship is a way for Fleet to stretch beyond New England.

"Fleet's sponsorship of Major League Baseball is a powerful way to connect with our growing national customer base," Mr. Murray said. "It also represents Fleet's increased size, scope, and reach beyond the geographic boundaries that once defined regional banking institutions."

The deal makes Fleet the first bank to sponsor one of the four major professional sports leagues. About a dozen banks back individual teams, stadiums, and sports events. The bank said it would use the sponsorship to promote its consumer and corporate banking services.

"It will give us a much larger venue," said Anne M. Finucane, senior vice president and director of corporate marketing. Currently, about half of the bank's revenues come from outside its traditional New England market, Ms. Finucane said.

Advertising during the sponsorship contract would highlight the bank's mortgages, investment management, and corporate finance service, she said.

Fleet has $104 billion of assets and is scheduled to merge with BankBoston in the fourth quarter.

Fleet has several businesses that would benefit from national exposure, including its brokerage, Quick & Reilly Group, and Columbia Management Co., an asset manager. Branding consultants said banks have increasingly turned to national advertising as they break out of their traditional regional bases.

First Union Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., for example, is spending $100 million on television and print ads to promote itself as a national financial services provider.

"These banks are laying the foundation," said Brannon Cashion, a financial services branding consultant for Addison Whitney Inc. in Charlotte. "If you believe there will only be five or six major financial companies in the future, the quicker you build a national brand, the more chances you have to be a survivor."

Many banks have gotten involved in sports sponsorships.

Chase Manhattan Corp. sponsors the women's professional tennis tour. And Bank One Corp., Chicago, sponsors the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team and the Dallas Cowboys football team. Citigroup is a sponsor of the Masters golf tournament.

Fleet said it would continue to sponsor the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees and would continue to provide financing to 12 other Major League franchises, vendors, and affiliates.

Arnold Communications Inc., a Boston advertising agency, is coordinating the print, broadcast, and outdoor ad campaign related to Major League Baseball, using the theme "Fleet Keeps Baseball Going." Posters and print advertisements are to begin running in Boston today, coinciding with the Red Sox's home opener.

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