Celtic to launch credit card for US fans

CELTIC Football Club will unveil a new credit card this week aimed at their North American supporters when they play two glamour matches in the US against Manchester United and Boca Juniors.

The potentially lucrative deal with financial services company MBNA is the first time a football club have issued a credit card to operate outside its domestic market.

Celtic also expect to announce a tie-up in the next fortnight with an undisclosed telecoms company, believed to be a mobile phone deal.

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The credit card deal in America follows the successful launch of a tie-up with MBNA in the UK ahead of the home match against Dundee in May. It produced a record number of applicants from a football match.

MBNA is one of the biggest companies in affinity credit card marketing, with 5,100 partner organisations including Manchester United and Liverpool football clubs, internet company AOL and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Last week it signed a deal to provide a Visa card for the Conservative party.

Celtic this week embark on an eight-day tour in America, kicking off with a 67,200 sell-out match against English champions Manchester United on Tuesday in Seattle. The team will play South American champions Boca Juniors of Argentina on Friday in Cleveland, Ohio, in front of an estimated 30,000 spectators.

Following the winter break trip to Florida, Celtic see this week’s trip as a further opportunity to build their brand in North America.

David McNally, sales and marketing director, will be meeting sports marketing agency Champions World, the club’s partner in the US, to discuss future plans.

"If this trip works on the football front and off the field, it is likely we will go back," he said. A tour including New York, Boston and Toronto has been pencilled in for next year.

Recent research by Capita Consulting in conjunction with Cranfield Institute revealed that the club had a worldwide fan base of nine million, of which one million were in the US and Canada.

McNally, a former deputy chief executive of underwear company Gossard, is keen to develop partnership deals for Celtic with blue-chip brands. He tied up Gossard’s deal with tennis star Anna Kournikova to become the face of Berlei sports bras.

Since arriving at Celtic just over two years ago, he has shifted promotion of the Celtic brand away from Australia, Asia and South Africa, where the English Premiership is widely shown on television, towards Ireland and North America.

One-to-one research was conducted among more than 80 supporters’ clubs across the US and Canada which revealed a desire to watch broadcast games and to see the team play live.

Fans include a large number of expatriate Scots and Irish, but 21 million youngsters are playing the game in America and represent a huge and largely affluent potential fan base.