MBNA Corp. has scored a touchdown in its drive into Canada.

The company, which has a close affinity relationship with the National Football League in the United States, recently announced a similar arrangement with the Canadian Football League.

Jeffrey Giles, president of the CFL, said the card bank was a logical choice because of its NFL and National Hockey League endorsements. "They provide us with the best opportunity to get as many cards as we can possibly get-and make as much money as we can," Mr. Giles said.

After the league was approached by MBNA, it shopped around with Canadian issuers, Mr. Giles said, but Wilmington, Del.-based MBNA offered the best terms and marketing approaches.

"The Canadian banks have not been overly aggressive with affinity programs," said Stanley Anderson, president of Anderson and Associates, Arvada, Colo. "That spells opportunity for MBNA."

MBNA is among a growing number of U.S. card issuers hoping to make a name north of the border, where credit cards are less ubiquitous. This week Banc One Corp.'s First USA subsidiary announced it would begin issuing cards in Canada this fall.

Since MBNA opened its Canadian operation in Ottawa late last year, it has signed up more than 50 affinity groups, including the Canadian Nurses Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the NHL's Ottawa Senators.

MBNA's success in Canada came at a good time for MasterCard, the brand it is issuing. In a country that has not followed the U.S. lead in letting banks issue both MasterCard and Visa, five of the six nationwide banks issue Visa.

The pending merger of Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of Montreal, the only big MasterCard issuer, has raised questions about whether the post- merger bank must forgo one card brand.

MBNA would not comment on why it has chosen to issue MasterCard in Canada. The chairman of MBNA America Bank, Charles Cawley, is a MasterCard director.

In MBNA affinity promotions, the MasterCard and marketing partner's names are more prominent than the bank's.

The bank is using mail solicitations and telemarketing. It has also set up kiosks at stadiums with T-shirt giveaways.

The CFL is also assisting in MasterCard promotions, having printed seven million pocket schedules in addition to running television and newspaper advertisements.

Though MBNA does not give a breakdown of its loans in Canada, the company has reported robust growth elsewhere abroad. Its outstandings in the United Kingdom rose 56% last year, to $2.8 billion.

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