Citibank, Visa score deal with Nicklaus

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On the heels of American Express Co.'s five-year pact with Tiger Woods, Visa USA and Citibank have inked major marketing agreements with legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus.

More than just endorsement deals, the Visa and Citibank contracts represent fully integrated alliances with Mr. Nicklaus' Golden Bear Golf, encompassing resorts, event management, golf schools and licensed products.

Visa and Citibank also will team for a Jack Nicklaus affinity card. Marine Midland Bank had been offering an affinity card with the golfer, but canceled the program last year.

Mr. Nicklaus will appear in ads and promotions touting his alliance with Visa and Citibank, with separate campaigns expected from both marketers.

The participants wouldn't comment on the deals, scheduled to be announced at a July 8 press conference in New York.

Although there have been talks since last year, the Visa announcement closely follows that of Mr. Woods' deal to endorse American Express. AmEx is reportedly paying Mr. Woods $13 million and will spend $30 million in marketing support over the next five years. (AmEx has said those figures are high, but won't release actual numbers.)

Some sports marketing experts said Visa's deal with senior golfer Mr. Nicklaus won't achieve the same results as AmEx's tie-in with the 21-year-old--and red-hot--Mr. Woods.

"If they're looking for the kind of rub-off Tiger will give AmEx, it won't totally work, because Jack won't reposition Visa among younger consumers," said one sports marketing agency executive.

Marine Midland discontinued its Nicklaus card because it failed to attract enough customers after a five-year run, said Phil Christian, senior VP-revolving business. The bank promoted the card nationally through direct mail, telemarketing and event marketing.

"We had a problem targeting, and maybe there was not as strong an affinity for the Nicklaus name" as the bank had thought, Mr. Christian said.

Others noted that with Mr. Woods raising the profile and popularity of golf, its stars are becoming icons who transcend the sport.

Indeed, Visa and Citibank are trumpeting Mr. Nicklaus as the "golfer of the century," a provocative claim at a time when Mr. Woods is touted by some as the game's best player ever.

While Visa may not draw younger consumers, it stands to reap immediate gains among its more upscale cardholders. Indeed, golf is still a game that appeals to older men who idolized Mr. Nicklaus in his prime.

"The person who plays golf in America is the demo that credit card marketers would like to attract," said Dennis Shea, managing director of Auriemma Consulting, a credit card consultancy. "And the Nicklaus name to a golfer is as good as Michael Jordan is to a sports fan."

Copyright July 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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