JUDGE BOOTS SPRINT PLANS FOR WORLD CUP

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NEW YORK-MasterCard International's victory in its World Cup sponsorship lawsuit is likely to disconnect the soccer marketing plans of Sprint.

MasterCard last month sued Sprint and World Cup USA 1994, alleging that World Cup organizers infringed on MasterCard's exclusive rights in the "card-based payment and account-access device" category by granting similar rights to Sprint for its pre-paid calling cards.

Sprint bought a lesser "marketing part-ner" status after MasterCard inked its worldwide sponsorship deal in 1991. Having already distributed more than 100,000 cards plastered with the World Cup logo, Sprint had hoped to use its pre-paid phone card as a "very large part of our marketing partnership with the World Cup," a spokeswoman said.

But a U.S. District Court judge here last week ruled Sprint had "absolutely no right" to use the World Cup logo on those cards, despite assurances from World Cup marketing officials that it could do so, and forced the company to stop distributing them.

As a result, Sprint will also abandon a phone card campaign from J. WalterThompson USA, San Francisco, that would have tied into the soccer tourney, marking the company's first major push for the cards in the U.S.

Sprint said it's exploring options for introducing the pre-paid cards this summer without reference to the World Cup.

The company said it was "surprised and disappointed" by the judge's ruling, since it had already committed $20 million to soccer sponsorships, ads, direct marketing and promotion programs. Sprint said it's considering an appeal of the ruling or seeking compensation from World Cup officials.

Sprint's tie-in with Reebok International, offering free phone cards with the purchase of Reebok shoes, is unaffected by the judge's ruling because those cards feature soccer stars and other athletes instead of official World Cup logos. Reebok has no World Cup sponsorship rights.

The court fight, unusual because both companies have some official sponsorship status, appears to have stemmed from what a Mas terCard executive termed "greediness" on the part of World Cup USA 1994.

Court documents show that World Cup offered Sprint logo rights even after ISL Marketing specifically told it the MasterCard agreement prevented Sprint's use of the emblem on calling cards "in any manner whatsoever." ISL handled sales of the larger global sponsorship packages.

MasterCard paid $25 million for worldwide sponsorship rights for the tournament three years ago and has built a major promotional effort around the event, set for June 17 to July 17 in several U.S. cities.

Executives there said they were "pleased" with the verdict and plan no changes in their own marketing plan.

Several new TV spots starring soccer legend Pele, from Ammirati & Puris, will break in May as part of the credit card's "Smart Money" campaign. A separate overseas campaign, also featuring Pele, is already running via Lintas Worldwide.

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