MasterCard International, which snatched a sponsorship deal with Major League Baseball last October after Visa U.S.A. was thought to have it sewn up, is preparing to make the most of its victory.
On Monday, MasterCard announced a set of baseball-related promotions to run from July through September. MasterCard called it a "triple play" because it includes consumer discounts, a sweepstakes, and charitable contributions.
William Daily, the card association's vice president of sponsorships, said the "Summer League Promotion" will be "more aggressive" than most.
"Given the stature of Major League Baseball in this country and the size of the target audience, our plans are more comprehensive," he said. MasterCard has put together "a fully integrated program that is designed to reach a 65 million-fan base and motivate them to use MasterCard."
Beginning Wednesday, 25 million discount cards will mailed to cardholders. The cards will be valid through Sept. 30 at Foot Locker, Radio Shack, Sam Goody/Musicland, and SunCoast Motion Picture Co.
Any purchase at these retailers during July and August enters the cardholder in a sweepstakes. The grand prize is a trip for two to the next 10 All-Star games, plus $50,000 to cover travel expenses.
In a cause-related twist, MasterCard will donate up to $500,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of America, depending on card purchases during the two months.
Advertisements for the promotion will appear in USA Today on July 8, the day after the All-Star game, followed by others in Time, People, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN Magazine.
In related news, MasterCard signed seven baseball teams to multiyear sponsorship agreements. MasterCard will be the exclusive brand on affinity cards of the Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, and St. Louis Cardinals. (Visa has affinity or preference agreements with 16 other teams.)
Stanley Anderson, president of Anderson & Associates of Arvada, Colo., said the charity tie-in could attract people who are not baseball fans.
"There is a residual value to the association in supporting a major charity," Mr. Anderson said. "People will remember the link and that helps build brand loyalty."
A 1997 survey by Cone Communications and Roper Starch Worldwide found 76% of consumers might switch to a brand associated with philanthropic efforts if price and quality were the same. American Express and Visa have similarly attached themselves to charitable causes with promotional tie- ins.
Richard G. Barlow, president of Frequency Marketing Inc., Milford, Ohio, said he doubted the baseball promotion would have a long-term effect on consumers' behavior.
It may spur a MasterCard preference short-term, but "as soon as a superior card value resurfaces in their minds, they go back to their old habits," he said.
The baseball promotion overlaps with MasterCard's headline sponsorship event, the World Cup soccer tournament, which runs through July 12 in France. The Purchase, N.Y.-based association, going up against Visa's close identifications with the Olympics and American football, hopes the one-two punch will keep its brand "top of mind."
Jeffrey Baxter, principal of S.J. Baxter & Associates of Forest Hill, Md., said the growing popularity of soccer "makes it a great sponsorship on a worldwide basis," but baseball's status as the national pastime makes it potentially more valuable in the United States.
"World Cup is only every four years," he said. A baseball promotion can take place "consistently year after year, to keep awareness going."
"Visa has proved that sports partnerships are very successful in helping to build a brand," Mr. Baxter said. As a result, "MasterCard has become much more aggressive in the past year or so."