Viewers of Major League Soccer's inaugural game last Saturday should not have been surprised to see the MasterCard logo appear almost constantly on their television screens.
It was further evidence that MasterCard International has made its identification with the "world game" a top marketing priority, just as Visa International has latched onto the Olympics as its main global sports sponsorship.
Having committed $8 million over four years to be one of six official sponsors of professional soccer in the United States, the Purchase, N.Y.- based card association got several prominent billboard positions that the television cameras swept by repeatedly during the opening match at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif.
MasterCard's logo also appeared three times on the uniform of each member of the visiting team from Washington, D.C. United, which lost to the San Jose Clash 1-0. The Clash's uniforms prominently displayed the name of its sponsor, America Honda.
MasterCard has been increasing its soccer sponsorships worldwide, which have included tie-ins with the quadrennial World Cup tournaments and major regional competitions in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Including the latest U.S. deal and the World Cup finals in France in 1998, the association has committed $100 million to soccer over four years, said a spokeswoman, Marianne Fulgenzi.
"We want to leverage off the success of World Cup '94," which was held in the United States, she said. "We wanted to continue the momentum," she said. "We wanted to give equal focus in the United States as we have in other parts of the world."
Separately, the new pro league said it has signed an exclusive deal with First USA Inc., Dallas, to issue affinity cards for each team.
MasterCard will be the preferred payment method for league ticket and merchandise sales. In addition, the four-year agreement gives MasterCard exclusivity in the bank card products and services advertising for 62 games televised on ESPN and ESPN2, plus the title match Oct. 20 on ABC.
Besides the Clash and D.C. United, the league has eight other teams: Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew, Dallas Burn, Kansas City Wiz, Los Angeles Galaxy, New England Revolution, New York/New Jersey MetroStars, and Tampa Bay Mutiny.
Ms. Fulgenzi said MasterCard chose the United as its "home" team because it is led by U.S. national team star John Harkes and "has been predicted to be successful."