sports giveaways offering fleeting brushes with fame, wealth, or privilege.
These promotions promise winning cardholders such prizes as an all-expenses-paid trip to the World Series to an afternoon playing catch in the backyard with a professional football star. Marketers say the interactive nature of these contests makes them more appealing than conventional advertisements.
To Visa U.S.A. and MasterCard International, contests eke maximum mileage out of expensive sponsorship contracts and provide more benefits to member banks.
"We've been looking at our marketing a little differently than in the past and are really looking at how we can drive volume for the members, and we know that our promotions do that," said Matthew Biespiel, vice president of advertising at Visa U.S.A. "This year around the National Football League, we felt the time was right to develop a program that the members could leverage a little bit more fully than they could in the past."
A Visa television commercial that made its debut Sept. 1 on ABC touted the "Once in a Lifetime NFL Fantasy" sweepstakes, which runs through Oct. 31. People who make Visa transactions have a lottery entrant's chance of winning prizes that include participating in an NFL halftime show.
Visa said some member banks are using the commercial to highlight specific Visa products, such as the check card.
This year's pitch to football fans is meant to "borrow some of that equity with the NFL shield -- and some of that affinity that people have with their teams -- and attach it to Visa," Mr. Biespiel said.
Last winter Visa ran a "Magic Moments" contest, which awarded rebates for transactions made with the company's credit cards. The campaign will be reprised this holiday season.
MasterCard, meanwhile, is running national commercials for a sweepstakes aimed at baseball fans.
The spots, scheduled to span the baseball season, use MasterCard's "Priceless" motif and feature Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Sweepstakes winners will get a trip to the 1999 World Series and will sit with famous players.
The campaign included fan voting for an "All-Century" baseball team, some of whose members will mingle with the giveaway winners. McCann-Erickson of New York is MasterCard's agency.
"Visa and MasterCard are more sensitive than in the past to the need to involve issuers, and for issuers to realize real benefits through these national promotions," said Steven J. Smith, president of S.J. Smith & Associates, a consulting firm in Scarsdale, N.Y.
Visa is in the last year of a five-year NFL contract valued at about $40 million. Visa says it has not formally decided whether to renew the sponsorship, but it has hinted that it will do so.
"The level of support we're putting behind the NFL this season is indicative of our interest and desire to continue to be an NFL sponsor," Mr. Biespiel said.
Industry sources say Visa spent about $50 million on its integrated NFL marketing campaign this year, which includes three 30-second television commercials, radio spots, print ads, and its biggest Internet effort to date. Visa's agency of record, BBDO New York, did the creative work.
Banners plugging the sweepstakes and other promotions have been posted at major sports Web sites including CNNSI.com, FOXsports.com, and ESPN.com. Links from other sites send shoppers to NFL.com, where they can buy football paraphernalia and where Visa is the exclusive payment tool.
Last year Visa opened a "hall of fans" exhibit at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and is accepting for a chance to win induction, along with a two-night trip to Canton for the January ceremony. To enter, a fan submits a photograph and a one-page essay.