Metris Cos., which got its start in the card world by targeting consumers who shopped from catalogues, now wants to go after those who go to gyms.

Through its Direct Merchants Bank subsidiary, Metris will issue a Bally Total Fitness MasterCard geared to the four million members of the national chain's health clubs.

Metris, which was spun off last year from the catalogue retailer Fingerhut Cos., now has $1.8 billion in receivables from 1.5 million accounts. It continues to market a cobranded Fingerhut MasterCard and has access to a data base of millions of Fingerhut customers.

"We like that Bally's has a data base of customers, like Fingerhut," said Ronald N. Zebeck, Metris' chief executive officer. "It has extension of credit, so we get good credit information, behavior information that we use to help augment the information that we have so we can get more customers and have a much stronger brand."

S. Jeffrey Baxter, principal, S.J. Baxter Associates, said "Ron Zebeck is a data base marketer, that's where he wants to take this company, being able to drive benefits to the individual level."

Initially, cardholders will be able to earn discounts on travel and Bally memberships. Eventually, they will be able to earn discounts on Bally-branded apparel, nutritional counseling, and personal trainer programs.

Metris will use the information it gleans from the data base to target offers, Mr. Zebeck said. Depending on credit histories, Bally's customers can qualify for standard or gold versions. Interest rates range from 14.9% to 22.9%, and some of the cards have annual fees of up to $30.

This is not the first time a cobranded Bally's card has hit the market. Three years ago, First Deposit Corp. (now Providian Bancorp), tested a cobranded Visa card in select markets for Bally Manufacturing, which then operated the health club chain. Although the pilot was successful, it ended after only three months, according to John W. Dwyer, senior vice president, chief financial officer, and treasurer for Bally Total Fitness.

A year later, Chicago-based Bally Manufacturing was divided in two. MBNA Corp. has been issuing a cobranded Visa card for Bally Entertainment, which operates casinos, since the end of 1996.

Mr. Dwyer said Bally Total Fitness looked for a new, permanent, cobranding partner for about a year before choosing Metris. "They understood our market and what we wanted to accomplish as a company," he said.

He added that the card "solidifies our edge over the competition" being the only nationwide chain of fitness centers, and "fits right in line with the image and reality of what we are. It adds value to membership beyond going to the gym and enjoying a nice facility at a good price."

Bally's members are mostly under 35, 58% single, and 52% male. Half of members earn under $35,000 a year. On average, members pay $30 a month.

Each year some 800,000 new members sign up, but Bally's says it receives some two million inquiries. It will market to new members and callers, as well as to some nonmembers.

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