Continuing its move to corner upscale consumers, MasterCard International is marketing an affinity card through its member banks as part of a global sponsorship of Lola Formula One racing cars.
Pushing past the traditional boundaries of an affinity card, the MasterCard/Lola cards will be issued by more than one bank, as gold credit cards and Maestro debit cards.
"Each member bank will have the opportunity to tailor benefits to fit their cardholders' needs and customize the artwork on the card," said Leslie Lakis Card, spokeswoman for MasterCard International.
"By having multiple issuers, MasterCard gives each of its member banks a chance to participate in the program," said James Accomando, president of Accomando Consulting Inc. in Fairfield, Conn.
In its role as an official sponsor of NFL Football, Visa was recently criticized for inadvertently promoting only one of its member banks. MBNA is the only member bank that issues the NFL Visa card.
The customized artwork on the Lola MasterCards will include the images of Lola drivers, a Lola racing car, or both, plus the MasterCard/Lola Formula One logo,
This is not the first time that MasterCard has promoted affinity cards with international sports appeal. Its ongoing sponsorship of World Cup Soccer includes Pele and other soccer affinity cards.
Lori B. Wood, credit card manager for 2,000 cardholders at $1 billion- asset National City Bank of Evansville, Ind., said the racing card "seems to appeal to a niche market," and her bank probably won't be interested.
"We only issue MasterCards, and the majority of our portfolio carries gold cards," she said, "but we would want a program that appeals to a more widespread audience."
MasterCard cardholders will also be eligible for membership in the MasterCard Lola Formula One Race Team - a club for racing fans.
Fan involvement in the club will be integral to the success of MasterCard's four-year sponsorship agreement. The revenue that MasterCard generates from membership dues, ranging from $79.99 to $2,999.99 per year, will pay the entire cost of the Lola sponsorship.
Each club member will receive tiered levels of benefits, from team merchandise and newsletters to invitations to private auctions of authentic Lola racing items, as well as off-track events and dinners with Formula One drivers.
"MasterCard had a similar affinity card with World Cup Soccer, but this will be an even narrower market," said Fran Dale, president of Entandem Inc. "It seems difficult to believe that it could be a self-funding program," she added.
But "though there is no Formula One racing in the U.S., there is still a strong contingent of fans," said Mava Heffler, MasterCard's senior vice president for global promotions and sponsorship. "Fans that follow the circuit from race to race are definitely travel-and-entertainment-oriented, with many of them being gold card holders. This is the market we are hoping to capture."
Mr. Accomando said MasterCard is building a loyalty marketing program. Customers who have paid to be members of the program "are going to be hooked to the MasterCard brand," he said.
Formula One Racing is the most-watched sport in its nine-month season, seen by more than $45 billion viewers in over 200 countries, according to MasterCard.
"Anecdotal information shows that our members are entrepreneurial, professional, and successful," said George Goad, president of the Los Angeles-based Formula One Spectators Association. Most of its 2,500 members are from the United States, he said.
Primary communication to MasterCard cardholders will be through statement inserts. Advertisements will also be placed in racing magazines and applications distributed at race meets.