Credit Card Sponsorship

Much like the Big 4 sports leagues in the US, we have four main credit card companies: American Express, Discover, Mastercard, and Visa. Each has a distinguished history in the sponsorship sphere, though Amex, Mastercard, and Visa have much more extensive and notable sponsorship portfolios these days. The variety, notoriety, and breadth of each brand’s sponsorship depends largely on the sponsorship spend by each company. Visa has long been the biggest spender, and it’s not difficult to see why when you look at its list of partners.  

Each brand aims to use its sponsorship relationships to entice cardholders. They want to make their members happy, and, to be honest, these brands are doing it pretty well. 


American Express 

American Express has one of the most diverse portfolios of the brands we’ll be discussing today. While the other major credit card brands concentrate most heavily on sports deals, Amex has, or has had, some very interesting sponsorship deals outside sport. This multi-pronged approach has been noted; SponsorPitch, the Association of National Advertisers, and IEG have analyzed Amex’ approach. The brand is looking for consumers who have “the common goal of seeking unique experiences.” You’ll see throughout this section that Amex traditionally uses its partnership deals to obtain preferential ticketing options for its consumers at all sorts of events: concerts, games, tournaments, fashion shows, and more. 

Potential partners submit pitch documents here



One of American Express’ most visible partnerships is the one it holds with music festival Coachella. Long one of the most popular festivals, Coachella usually draws an A-list of performers and an A-list of sponsors. And performers, festivalgoers, and yes, sponsors, use the event as an opportunity to go all out. While we haven’t seen what Amex is planning for 2019, it’s 2018 activation at the festival was on everyone’s minds. The brand ran the “American Express Platinum House,” featuring performers like Duckworth.

Credit Card Sponsorship
Photo by Ari Perilstein/Getty Images for American Express; Source:  Taylor Baybutt


The brand signed on with the festival in 2015 as the official category holder, and in 2018, “us[ed] the festival as a platform to launch their new global strategy...Amex rolled out a lifestyle and influencer-driven approach to activating the brand.” What is the new global strategy you may ask? Forbes (and Amex) has an answer:  

With the growing convergence of media, marketing and technology empowering today’s do-it-yourself generation to design the lives and careers they want, the company’s new campaign “Don’t Live Life Without It” is a nod to millennials being mobile, progressive and hungry for new experiences. 

It was a well-received activation, and that’s what we’re expecting from this year as well, as American Express has a long history of creating just the activation its audience is looking for. Don’t believe us? Check out this CNBC article from all the way back in 2011 – and you read that right – where the author expounds upon Amex’ seemingly unique ability to connect with fans at the US Open(s) (sorry, we know this isn’t a music partnership). At both tournaments, Amex offered fans mini televisions – because, whether you’re out on the course or at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the action may not be close by. And at the US Open (golf), the brand offered guests a “Course Curator,” which helped them plan and personalize their experiences at the event. Now, we’re curious – did they offer the same thing in Palm Springs? 

Lest you think Amex’ association with music began with Coachella in 2015, we’re here to point you down another road: it’s long been a focus of the brand. Amex launched both a concert series and a sort-of age-specific credit card in 2010. The concert series - “unstaged” - is a one-off, unpredictable, unique mess of a tour. (We say mess fondly here, not to worry). It started in 2010 with Arcade Fire, and has featured other acts like Kenny Chesney or Coldplay. The card, Zync, was primarily promoted through Amex’ music sponsorship contracts. First, the card had a ‘Music’ pack that offered double rewards on concert tickets and presale options for the same items. Then Amex used its music partnership ecosystem – think festivals like Pitchfork, Austin City Lights, and Mile High – to promote the card onsite. An early digital advertiser, Amex also promoted this particular card – and these notable rewards – on Facebook. 

Not exactly a music partnership – more of an endorsement – is Amex’ deal with Lin Manuel Miranda. (I mean, what else would you classify the creator of Hamilton as, really?) LMM isn’t seen on much branding, and for good reason: he doesn’t really partner with brands. He did, however, make an exception for Amex – because he actually uses it. To be fair, American Express makes it really easy to both use its card and spend your rewards! 



Perhaps Amex’ most visible sports presence is in tennis. The brand has had a long association with the US Open, and also became an official partner to Wimbledon just last year, though 2019 will be its first year onsite at the tournament.  Also in 2018, Amex celebrated its 25th anniversary with the US Open. The brand had a new Centurion Lounge onsite, created “Super Rally” for fans to try out onsite, and offered customers the chance to use the ‘Amex Band’ for contactless payment onsite. Nearby, Amex is also a sponsor of the new-in-2018 ATP men’s tournament, the New York Open, held in February. 

Speaking to a similar audience, Amex is also a partner of the US Golf Association (USGA). A renewal was signed in 2016, and the two organizations have been affiliated since 2007. As USGA’s first-ever sponsor, it is now one of only five brands the organization partners with. 

Credit Card Sponsorship
Photo by Suzi Pratt/Getty Images for American Express; Source: Fortune


As it happens, Amex also has strong relationships outside a standard country club offering in the sports world – somewhat unsurprisingly, given the brand recognition and sponsorship spend available. Within the major US sports leagues, American Express has a league-level relationship with the NBA, and a successful team partnership with the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL. According to IEG/ESP Properties, the largest proportion of the $1.2 billion NBA-related sponsorship revenues comes from the league sponsors like American Express. The credit brand first signed on with the NBA in 2010 and signed a contract extension in 2013. That extension promised a concentrated activation approach centering on digital marketing. 

In Seattle, the partnership between Amex and the Seahawks has been discussed several times by Chief Marketer. The brand sets up at home games with the “American Express Experience” featuring the ‘Hawks Throne’ - and though it’s made of footballs, we can’t stop associating it with the Iron Throne. Like the brand’s partnership with the NBA, this deal is also focused on the digital – it gives fans plenty of opportunity to engage on social media and through other digital content. 

Credit Card Sponsorship



 We’ll jump back to the UK for another of Amex’ team partnerships. This one is with Brighton and Hove Albion of the English Premier League. Though currently only two spots from relegation (last year the team finished 15th), Brighton has nonetheless been a desirable sponsorship commodity, signing five deals since the 2017/18 season. And American Express takes center stage: the team plays at American Express Community Stadium, and they play in jerseys with the Amex logo on the chest. (It doesn’t hurt aesthetically that the team colors are basically Amex colors). 



Not content only onsite at sporting events, Amex wants to reach sports viewers everywhere. This mentality has led Amex to two really great broadcast partnerships: one with Turner/TNT on its NBA on TNT property, and one with ESPN on its ESPN+ service. 

By all accounts, American Express’ partnership with Turner/TNT has been great. The Roadshow has likeable and noteworthy talent commentating, flexibility with onsite and on-air advertising and activation, and a desirable property: the NBA (which, as you saw above, has its own relationship with Amex). In fact, partner Turner sold out this year’s NBA All-Star Game in record time, so it would likely be safe to assume all three parties are as happy as three peas in a pod. 

American Express deal with ESPN on the ESPN+ streaming platform gave the credit card brand’s consumers extra perks – extending a free 7 day trial into a free 30 day trial for one. This service launched in mid-2018. Amex also sponsored an episode of SportsCenter All-Access. 


Other Partnerships

Two unique (on the surface) deals stand out for American Express outside the usual sponsorship channels of sports and entertainment. The first, done by Amex Canada, is with Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. With this deal, Amex became the airport’s first sponsor to bring travelers free wifi in the terminal. 

Amex also has a deal with the World Restaurant Awards. According to the author of this article, the event was held in Paris (where else?)...but ended up being a bit of a disappointment. This was a brand new event, and from the review, seemed to have difficulty finding its footing. Our question is: was Amex’ deal multi-year, and if not, will the brand give the event a second chance? 

Not the only foodie event, Amex has also affiliated with EEEEEats Con in the past. We’ve never been, but we’re picturing a mix between Comic Con and the South Beach Food & Wine Festival, and WE ARE SO DOWN. 



You’ll soon see Discover’s sponsorship portfolio is not as extensive as the other brands we’re looking at today. While Discover does have two major sports sponsorship deals now, the brand doesn’t have as wide of a breadth as the others. Both are quite high profile, but lack support at other levels. Discover does, however, aim to reach Millennials and has an out-of-the-box partnership that should do just that outside sports. Like American Express, it also has one other deal outside the usual channels, and this brand too needs to judge the success of that partnership. Quick question before we begin: do you think these deals support Discover’s broader #adulting campaign to reach Millennials? Are these the right avenues to reach the desired market? 

While Discover doesn’t have the sponsorship spending levels of the other three brands, it does have (theoretically) a lot of availability for partners. Might be worth checking out. 



To say Discover isn’t up there with the other brands wouldn’t necessarily be fair or accurate. While we do mention above that Discover is not up to par considering the number and breadth of deals in sports, the brand does hold two very large-scale deals. One, with a Big 4 league, and the second, with a Power 5 NCAA conference. That’s not doing too badly for themselves. 

Let’s start with the Big 4: Discover has a current deal – through this year – with the NHL. A renewal was last signed in 2015, and included cardmember discounts, the title sponsorship of the “Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown,” and other assets. One qualifier to this deal: Discover was definitely a partner of the NHL as a league, but event-wise, the games or other events had to be hosted stateside to qualify for Discover sponsorship. No news yet on whether we’ll see another renewal this year. 

NCAA-wise, Discover is the official credit card of the Big Ten Conference and Big Ten Network. The brand was able to get placement at numerous Big Ten events, including football games, and the ability to interact with alumni through multiple platforms. Perhaps most important is the presenting sponsorship of the Big Ten Football Championship Game. 


And we can’t help but wonder if this Big Ten deal is meant to replace Discover’s previous NCAA football partnership with the Orange Bowl. While the Big Ten deal began only last year and the Orange Bowl deal lapsed after 2014, it’s not unheard of for a brand to thoroughly vet a new partner. And if Discover was aiming to stay involved in NCAA football under the new College Football Playoff system, the Big Ten (a Power Five conference with a television network) wasn’t a bad way to go. 


Off the Beaten Path 

Like Amex, Discover has a relationship with the World’s Best Restaurants. In this case, however, it’s with The World’s 50 Best Restaurants through affiliate Diners Club International. This partnership seems to be more of a perk opportunity similar to some of Amex’ music relationships, rather than the award show partnership we discussed above. Because this partnership is not affiliated with an event – especially a new event – we believe it is likely more successful; there is more data to track to see if it is a worthwhile benefit to cardholders. 

We mentioned previously Discover is going after Millennials, and the entry above regarding Diners Club International may not scream ‘Millennial’ at you. That’s okay; we think this next partnership demonstrates Discover’s goals a bit better. Last year, Discover began a partnership with the bike share program in San Diego, now newly renamed Discover Bike. This bikeshare program allows San Diego commuters (or tourists, if they’re anything like the Ford GoBikes in San Francisco) to get around the city in a healthy way – and we mean healthy for the person and healthy for the environment. Win-win. This sponsorship likely appeals to Millennials given the well-documented dedication to combatting climate change. Most happily, this sponsorship also allowed the operator to boost the fleet size by 20%, allowing even more people to use these bikes. Cardmembers save 20% when using their Discover cards. 



Mastercard has the most comprehensive portfolio we’ve seen thus far today. Partnerships range from high profile sports leagues to world-class performing arts venues to some of the best known food festivals. Check out the chart below to see which partnerships Mastercard itself touts: 

Credit Card Sponsorship

Source: Mastercard US 


Keep in mind the sports partnerships listed here are not exhaustive: not contained are Mastercard’s deals within the esports realm. As above, Mastercard also takes sponsorship proposals. 

Perhaps the biggest news in Mastercard sponsorship is the company’s recent logo retool. For branding done at sponsored properties (and other similar entities), Mastercard is dropping the text from its logo and going forward using only the interlocking circles. According to the brand, the logo is already recognized by 80% of consumers without the text since Mastercard has kept a similar logo for 50+ years. 



Mastercard aims to avoid being a “dumb buyer” - cutting a check and moving on from its deals. (In case you were wondering, this attitude is beyond ideal.) Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s CMO, summed it up like this: We are looking to be a true partner, which means we have to co-create things.” 

We almost fainted. If there’s something you want a potential partner to say – it's that. And Mastercard, by and large, has set about doing just that. Perhaps its most visible partnership is the deal it holds with UEFA Champions League. This relationship first began in 1994, and is renewed through 2021. Though this particular deal doesn’t stop UEFA from signing other credit card/payment processors to other assets (you’ll see evidence of this later), Mastercard has locked down UEFA’s most prominent annual tournament. Also included is the related Super Cup, in which the champions of the Champions League and Europa League face off. 

Congratulations to the UEFA Champions League Final Winners FC Barcelona, from MasterCard, Official Sponsors of UEFA Champions League. #Priceless

Posted by Mastercard on Monday, June 8, 2015


Also in soccer are team and player based deals. As mentioned in the chart above, Mastercard sponsors the Brazilian National Team. Unfortunately, this partnership resulted in a misstep for the brand prior to last year’s FIFA World Cup. As a partner of only the team, and not the tournament/governing body (that would be Visa), Mastercard was limited in what it was able to do relating to the tournament. The team chose the wrong message; originally promising to donate 10,000 meals for every goal Neymar Jr or Lionel Messi scored, the public questioned why Mastercard wouldn’t donate the meals anyway. The campaign was cancelled.  

Mastercard is deeply entrenched on the course at golf events as well. As the chart notes above, the brand is a PGA Tour sponsor, as well as a partner of the PGA TOUR Champions, Tour, Arnold Palmer Invitational, and the newly rechristened Mastercard Japan Championship to be held later this year in Japan. Mastercard first sponsored golf and PGA events beginning in 1995, and extended its Preferred Payment relationship with the TOUR through 2022 back in 2017. The brand is also the presenting sponsor of the Arnold Palmer Invitational through 2020. Mastercard typically uses golf events to provide special experiences for cardholders, from tickets to special access to swag, as well as to show off its contactless payment options, such as the “Commerce for Every Device” program with golf gloves.  

Speaking of benefits, Mastercard also recently partnered Topgolf. This deal will give cardholders the opportunity to score Topgolf discounts and preferred registration time slots. Mastercard used its partnership with LPGA great Annika Sorenstam to promote this new opportunity to cardholders. 


New Opportunities 

Of the four major credit card/payment processing brands, Mastercard is leading the way in the growing esports industry. No other global brand had entered the space at the time Mastercard jumped on board with Riot Games for the League of Legends (LoL) global events. The brand will be activating at the three major LoL events, including an invitational, World Championship, and All-Star event. Players will be receive special in-game benefits if they use their Mastercard and there are designated tickets for fans who purchase with the card.  

On the esports industry side, this deal was very exciting. Experts say, “Mastercard’s bet on the world’s largest esports property will be celebrated throughout the nascent competitive video gaming industry...because it could convince other non-endemic brands to commit beyond the experimental, limited sponsorships that dominate esports today.” The move is also being seen as a response to Visa’s status as an IOC TOP sponsor and FIFA sponsor; with this early entry into a growing segment, Mastercard can gain traction and recognition in the space. 

Mastercard is also working to expand its reach globally, particularly in India. The brand is currently involved in golf and soccer in the country, but has, since 2017, had a strategy of involvement in local sporting events. 



By virtue of the brand’s partnerships with the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, and NFL, Visa is perhaps the most prominent credit card/payment processing sponsor. But Visa isn’t a passive sponsor – the brand truly works to find promotion and activation that works for each property. In fact, the brand’s ‘Go World’ advertising around the Olympics is one of the campaigns that truly aligns with the message of the Olympic Movement. Like the other brands we’ve discussed, Visa uses its sponsorship deals to entice its clients and cardholders.  



Let’s start with the big ones: IOC/Olympics, FIFA/World Cup, and the NFL. These three deals practically guarantee Visa is top of mind when thinking of payment processing sponsors. All three are currently under contract for at least five more years; the FIFA account has the closest expiration date in 2022, while the NFL (2025) and Olympics (2032) have a bit more breathing room before new deals need to be negotiated. 


These deals did not come cheap; signed in 2013, the FIFA/Visa deal was worth more than $170 million to FIFA, while Olympic deals have, in the past, averaged out to $100 million per four-year period. It is likely, however, Visa’s deal is significantly higher than that number: a new TOP sponsor, Toyota, signed a seven-year deal in 2015 reportedly worth $835 million. Visa’s extension was signed just last summer. The brand’s partnership with the Olympics began in 1986. Visa made a related, but still notable move ahead of the Rio 2016 Games when it signed the first-ever refugee team to a sponsorship deal. Some criticized the move as opportunistic, though the brand stated the deals were similar to those received by other athletes Visa sponsors. 


New Olympic sport surfing is already on Visa’s radar as well. In a deal signed in 2017, the brand partnered with the World Surfing League on the first stop of its Championship Tour that year. We’ve mentioned contactless payment options before, and this tournament offered a new one: payment-enabled sunglasses. Will we see those in Toyko, do you think? 

Visa recently signed on with some continental governing bodies as well, namely UEFA and CAF (Confederation of African Football). The brand will be involved with the following assets:  

  • UEFA Women’s Champions League 
  • UEFA Women’s EURO 
  • UEFA Women’s U19 and U17 Championships 
  • UEFA Women’s Futsal EURO 
  • UEFA’s Together #WePlayStrong  
  • 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 
  • 2021 ACFON 

The Visa/UEFA contract runs until 2025. This deal comes after UEFA’s unbundling of men’s and women’s sport last year. This was done to “revolutionise the traditional sports sponsorship model...continue to foster the rapid growth of women’s football across Europe, and to create more commercial opportunities to develop the game even further,” according to UEFA Director of Marketing Guy-Laurent Epstein. 

The president of CAF echoes these same sentiments, believing Visa will continue connecting Africa and African football to the rest of the world and working to take the sport to the next level on the continent.

We mentioned Mastercard was the first major payment processing entry into esports. While that’s true, it doesn’t mean the other brands haven’t entered in a small way, which is the case with Visa Europe (and yes, they’re different companies). Visa Europe signed on with SK Gaming for the 2017 season. The esports team was excited to partner with a global brand, while it allowed Visa to see what is available in the world of esports. 


Other Partnerships 

While Visa is clearly embedded into the sports world, that doesn’t mean the brand hasn’t branched out. Two particularly interesting partnerships are those it holds with Auto Mobility LA’s Hackathon and New York’s Hudson Yards. Not the only major brand to find the Hackathon a worthy partner, Visa and GM signed on as they viewed the event as an “opportunity for participants to explore solutions that will improve the overall driving experience.” Visa used the event for participants to experience simple in-car payment solutions. 

In New York, Hudson Yards is a large mixed-use development; Visa signed on as the Official Payment Technology Partner. The brand will be using the partnership to create “only-at” experiences onsite when Hudson Yards opens this year.  

Also in NYC, Visa worked with client JPMorgan Chase on its Madison Square Garden partnership. While Chase is the sponsorship holder, Visa works with the brand on its activation and initiatives – not a bad deal for Visa. Makes a client happy, and gains additional exposure. MSG isn’t the only partnership Visa has like this, either; the brand also works with client BBVA Compass on its Houston Dynamo (MLS) sponsorship. It’s great to see brands jump at the chance for cobranding and co-created partnerships and events, and we’re glad Visa is working to incorporate that opportunity in a more frequent way. 


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