Major card brands such as American Express Co. support sports sponsorships to keep existing cardholders happy and loyal, but the events they sponsor may spur interest from potential new customers, observers say.

For the past 17 years, AmEx has been a partner of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, for which it offers such on-site features as concierge assistance for cardholders to get restaurant reservations and car services. It also supports offsite events such as a large video screen in Madison Square Park to enable nonticketholders to watch the matches. Its NextContenders.com site features behind-the-scenes looks at such players as John Isner and Caroline Wozniacki.

AmEx just signed a long-term sponsorship agreement with the NBA (see story).

“The majority of our strategy is around the loyalty play and rewarding our cardmembers who are part of our brand,” Jessica Igoe, AmEx vice president of global sponsorship and event marketing, tells PaymentsSource.

But the sponsorships also are about attracting new customers, she notes. “If you don’t have an AmEx card and you see what we’re doing and it’s cool, then that creates a reappraisal for someone who might be considering a card,” Igoe says.

And that strategy works, observers say. “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.

Providing the access to the events especially drives home the card brand’s message, Shevlin says. “It’s the behind the scenes stuff” that really attracts consumers, he says.

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