BEIJING — MasterCard Inc. said it acquired the right to put its name on the former Beijing Olympics basketball stadium, the first foreign firm to get commercial naming rights over an arena in China's capital, as the U.S. card company tries to get a leg up in an electronic payments market that has been largely closed to foreigners.
Under the five-year deal, the 18,000-seat arena — which is also used for concerts and other sports like table tennis — will be called the MasterCard Center. MasterCard didn't say how much it is paying to brand the arena with its name.
Naming stadiums after companies is common in the U.S. but more unusual in China where the government has traditionally owned the venues. In the wake of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, there were moves to sell branding rights to the iconic "Bird's Nest" National Stadium, home to track and field events during the Games. Despite a number of multinational firms expressing interest, nothing came of it.
Foreign card companies so far have only limited business opportunities in China with state-owned local firm, China UnionPay Co., having a monopoly on issuing local currency credit cards. In September the U.S. Trade Representative took the first step toward launching a World Trade Organization case against China over limiting access to the country's electronic payments market, requesting consultation with Beijing over the issue.
Still, foreign companies can generate revenue from dual-currency cards, which are designed to make it easier for Chinese consumers to do transactions overseas. Such cards carry the brands of both China UnionPay and a foreign firm like MasterCard. And the foreign companies continue to hold out hope that China will liberalize its market.
"If you look at the world, is there another market with 1.3 billion people with a gross domestic product larger than Japan?" said Ling Hai, Greater China president for MasterCard. "Of course China is very important to us."
MasterCard forecasts China will overtake the U.S. as the world's largest credit card market by number of cards by 2020. Mr. Ling said that half of the dual-currency cards issued in China last year carried MasterCard's logo.