American Express Co. which long has prided customer loyalty to its brand, is well known for providing perks to cardholders through its sports sponsorships. And one of its biggest efforts involves the game of golf.

AmEx knows through its own transaction data that its cardholders often are players who spend money not only to watch the sport but also to play it, Courtney Kelso, AmEx vice president of sports and entertainment access strategy, tells PaymentsSource.

As an official patron of the Professional Golfers Association of America, AmEx providers cardholders access to premier championship golfing events.

The card brand also is the first corporate partner of the U.S. Golfers Association, the entity behind the U.S. Open, which this year took place in mid-June in Pebble Beach, Calif. During the event. All AmEx cardholders also received special access to U.S. Open tickets and participation in several digital programs on the U.S. Open’s website.

Besides offering event access, AmEx provides some on-site perks for all cardholders, such the AmEx CourseCast TV, a hand-held television cardholders may carry around with them around the course to watch the event telecast. AmEx also offers CourseCast Radio that enables cardholders to listen to play-by-play commentary of the golfing event from ESPN radio. Cardholders need only show their AmEx card to acquire the devices for the day free of charge, says Kelso.

The sponsorship offerings provide cardholders more than just access to events and AmEx with brand visibility, Kelso says. “For us, it’s truly about providing unparalleled access for our cardmembers,” she says. “We are in close contact with them, and we know that whatever we sponsor, cardmembers are really passionate about the events.”

Cardmembers need only show any AmEx cards at golf events to get access to such on-site amenities as hospitality tents with drinks, big-screen TVs and air conditioning; to swing-analysis areas with a PGA pro; and to special practice areas where they can swing a club, Kelso says.

AmEx also offers golf travel packages to its cardmembers where they can play at championship courses. “What we hear from cardmembers is that that these services are ‘too good to be true’ and ‘we had no idea this experience was waiting for us,’” she says. “They really see the value of their card membership.”

To that end, analysts contend that providing such access to and amenities for sporting events help keep cardholders loyal. “Loyalty is super important today,” says Megan Bramlette, managing associate at Auriemma Consulting Group of Westbury, N.Y. “The priorities today are not really about acquisition; the focus is on maintaining your best customers by keeping them happy.” She says sporting events have always been a place where card brands do something special for cardholders “because they’ve got the space to do something unique. These experiences encourge customers to stay with a card brand.”

There is a case to make for [sporting event sponsorships] not only in relationship-building but also in creating a brand and image that is favorable and appealing to the customer, says Ron Shevlin, senior analyst at Boston-based Aite Group. He says it is providing the access to the events that can really drive a card brand’s message home. “It’s the behind the scenes stuff,” that really attracts consumers.

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