MasterCard has been an official sponsor of Major League Baseball since 1997, which also was the year of the first "Priceless" campaign, a TV spot that featured a father and son at a baseball game. MasterCard and MLB have maintained strong ties ever since, most recently with the launch of "Priceless Perks." But as Cheryl Guerin, svp-Global Digital Marketing for MasterCard Worldwide, explains, the financial services firm's on-going sports-related strategies also rely heavily on NFL QB Peyton Manning, significant activation with hockey and alliances with the LPGA and PGA Tour.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted Aug. 4, 2010)
For more than a dozen years, MasterCard has been the preferred card of MLB and MLB Advanced Media. Although the deal is due to expire after this season (renewal talks are ongoing, according to industry analysts), the financial services firm and MLB have continued to build their alliance via business, marketing, social networking and in-stadium efforts.
The partnership dates back to 1997, which coincides with the launch of MasterCard's "Priceless" campaign, created by lead agency McCann-Erickson, New York. The first TV commercial, in fact, showed a boy going to a baseball game with his dad. Although the theme has held up for more than a dozen years, the "Priceless" prices quoted in that commercial have not: "Two tickets: $28. Two hot dogs, two popcorns, two sodas: $18. One autographed baseball: $45. Real conversation with 11-year-old son: Priceless. There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's MasterCard. Accepted all over. Even at Major League ballparks."
Since then, close to 200 "Priceless" commercials have been aired. NFL quarterback Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts has been in the most (about 10), where humorous situations help to drive home the message. Typical is the one in which Manning puts a positive spin on the negative comments from opposing fans. ("You're going down," says a New England Patriots fan to Manning in an in an elevator. "Yes I am," replies Manning. "To the fourth floor to get a massage.") Other stars have included Brett Favre, golfer Gary Player, Homer Simpson, The Three Stooges, Mr. Bill, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando and The Ramones ("The perfect pair of jeans: Priceless").
MasterCard featured baseball in its Stand Up To Cancer "Priceless" spot, with clips of Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson, which first aired during the 2009 World Series. ("Being part of the crowd that stands up to cancer: Priceless.") MasterCard's "Hit It Here" signs are part of the State Farm Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. MasterCard also has alliances with nine MLB clubs: Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodges, New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals.
In July, MasterCard unveiled with MLB Advanced Media "Priceless Perks," an online destination that offers MasterCard cardholders exclusive offers and savings on MLB Shop merchandise and the opportunity to bid on exclusive baseball memorabilia. "Priceless Perks" came with its own commercial ("You give your team 100%. Now use your MasterCard to get 20% off MLB gear ad access to exclusive fan experiences. Because loyalty is priceless.") and Internet including Facebook and Twitter.
In addition to baseball, MasterCard has a sponsorship deal with the Canadian Hockey League, naming rights to the MasterCard Centre (home of the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs) and is sponsor of the MasterCard Memorial Cup, awarded to the winner of an annual tournament featuring the top junior hockey teams in North America. Hockey great Bobby Orr is an official MasterCard spokesman in Canada. In golf, MasterCard is the "official payment system" and sponsor of the PGA Tour and Champions Tour as well as the LPGA, and is the official payment system of the PGA of America, which represents more than 10,000 golf teaching facilities and pro shops.
Cheryl Guerin has been svp-Global Digital Marketing, MasterCard Worldwide, since 2009 following nine years as svp-Global Digital Marketing for MasterCard U.S. She spoke with NYSportsJournalism.com regarding the launch of "Priceless Perks" and the impact that MLB and other sports alliances have had on traditional and digital marketing, consumer loyalty and the company's growth.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How do you think the MLB "Priceless Perks" offers will resonate with fans? Is it targeting core fans or will casual and even non-baseball fans get involved?
Cheryl Guerin: Baseball is America’s favorite pastime and always seems to bring people together – even if they’re not devoted fans. Building on that history as an American sport, Priceless Perks is really a program to help bring both devoted and casual fans closer to the game of baseball and to MLB teams. It’s also a way to help MasterCard cardholders save money and to get more from their card. MLB Priceless Perks offers MasterCard cardholders unique and exclusive benefits that are easy to take advantage of, including a 20% discount on MLB tickets, gear and subscriptions to MLB.TV, and access to MLB ultimate fan experiences. The program also enables them to personalize their card experience by requesting SMS messages with upcoming ticket offers and bidding on exclusive memorabilia, which means they can really tailor the updates they receive based on their team preferences and level of interest.
CG: MasterCard and the MLB have a long-standing partnership. We’ve worked together on a variety of programs to engage baseball fans, raise money for important causes like Stand Up To Cancer, and provide Priceless offers to MasterCard cardholders. We launched the MLB Priceless Perks program as an additional way for to fans to connect with MasterCard, the MLB and their favorite baseball teams. It’s just one aspect of our overall commitment to bring value to our customers and to support America’s favorite pastime.
NYSJ: What is MasterCard looking at beyond Priceless Perks for 2010 for the post-season and World Series?
CG: Right now, we’re getting the word out to cardholders and baseball fans about the MLB Priceless Perks program and the savings it offers. Our official sponsorship of the MLB has focused on developing mutually beneficial programs that offer both fans and cardholders unique benefits, and on raising funds and awareness for charitable initiatives and community service. Moving forward, we’d like to continue the tradition we’ve established of philanthropy, innovation and collaboration.
NYSJ: What are the biggest challenges in trying to reach sports fans and consumers via digital marketing?
CG: The biggest challenge has been ensuring that consumers receive the information they want, when and where they want it. The changes in technology over the past several years – the social revolution of digital and social media – has changed the way we communicate with all consumers, and we’ve adapted our approach to utilize new platforms to forge stronger relationships with them. I think our role in social media is to facilitate the conversation and to then listen and engage with consumers.
"If you're handling it right, it’s not really your company’s social media program. It belongs to your customers. If you're doing it right, they will own the conversation."
NYSJ: What have been the biggest changes in MasterCard's digital marketing strategies over the past few years and also since aligning with MLB in 1997?
CG: The biggest change has been working to engage consumers through new and ever-changing channels. We’ve had to be flexible and adapt to maintain a strong presence and relationship with cardholders. Our “Priceless” campaign was launched with a TV commercial featuring a father and son at a baseball game and since then, our official sponsorship of the MLB has helped establish and grow that platform. Because it’s a universal theme that appeals to and resonates with consumers around the world, we’ve been able to continue to leverage the “Priceless” platform through social media channels, videos and other ways online.
NYSJ: MasterCard has numerous key alliances in golf, hockey and other sports. What role does this play in the overall digital marketing strategy?
CG: More than ever, consumers are looking for card products and programs tailored to their personal preferences and interests. They want products and programs that help them express their individuality, offer support for their favorite causes or organizations and also reward them for their loyalty. As part of our digital strategy, MasterCard continues to build partnerships in sports and entertainment that reflect the passions of our cardholders and enable them to make a personal connection.
NYSJ: Are fans and consumers playing a bigger role in helping to define the goals and strategies in digital marketing and will this continue?
CG: Absolutely. With social media, consumers are speaking to us in a new way. They are offering us a chance to connect, build trust and establish a relationship. A company’s social media program should help you listen, engage with consumers, and give them what they truly need to make their lives better. If you're handling it right, it’s not really your company’s social media program. It belongs to your customers. If you're doing it right, they will own the conversation.