Football cards not best deals, but entice die-hard fans

By Ian Halstead

Football team-affiliated credit cards have long been a way for fans to show their support and get perks, such as club shop discounts, chances to watch training sessions and priority applications for tickets.

However, sports-affiliated cards typically don't offer the most competitive interest rates. While some die-hard fans may value the club perks more than getting the best rates, more casual fans aren't impressed.

Bank of America subsidiary MBNA entered the sports credit card market 21 years ago, and has dominated ever since, with Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool FC, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham among its club

For some clubs, the affinity cards are a core element of global expansion strategies. Manchester City teamed with the Saigon Hanoi Bank to target fans in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; United is in a four-year relationship with the Danish online financial services specialist, Ekspres Bank.

APRs higher, interest-free balance transfer periods shorter
For fans, though, the financial case is much less clear.

Almost all of MBNA's football cards carry an 18.9% APR, up two points from the 2013-2014 season rate (its West Ham United and Rangers cards are still at 16.9%). The 18.9% rate is around the average for the market, but way behind in the best rates on the market, topped (as of October 2014) by offerings from Sainsbury (6.9%) and Tesco (7.8%).

MBNA's recent increase levelled its APR rate with country's second most significant football card player, Creation. The Birmingham-based provider has so far collaborated with Everton, Wolves, Albion, Rams, Owls and Fulham.

For big-spending fans who fail to pay off their balance in full each month, such high interest rates could end up costing them more than the price of season tickets.

MBNA still has the upper hand on balance transfer periods on its sports-affiliated cards. Creation football card customers get six months at 0% APR; MBNA offers up to 24 months on most of its sports cards. However, neither of these deals is close to the longest balance-transfer deals on the market, some of which go up to 34 months.

The country's largest independent fans group, the Football Supporters Federation, agreed to test the mood via posts on its Facebook page and Twitter feed, inviting views on whether affinity cards are "decent deals" or "prey on fan loyalty".

After 2,500 views, no one had anything to say on the former, but some did comment on the latter.

"Deals no different from ones you'd find elsewhere," wrote an Arsenal fan. "They encourage fans to get into debt to pay for season tickets."

"I got [an affiliated card] for match tickets, but they hiked the interest," said a Chelsea supporter. "I froze it, and have just finished paying it off."

Perks to entice die-hard fans
So what are the benefits of an affinity card, given that most fans would be better off, in financial terms, using a different kind of card?

Creation offers a range of club-specific bonuses on each of its affiliated cards. The Everton card, for example, offers free ground tours and no booking fees on match day tickets. Albion's card includes vouchers for the club shop, a free match day programme after your first three card purchases and monthly prize draws to win signed merchandise or hospitality box tickets. All of the Creation football cards allow a nine-month interest-free period on season ticket purchases.

On most of MBNA's football credit cards, you can earn points to redeem for team merchandise or special offers. Its Manchester United card RedRewards scheme allows you chances to win "money can't buy" prizes, such as signed memorabilia or a chance to watch the first team training.

Then there's the intangible "feel-good" factor. By using an affinity card you're not only demonstrating loyalty to your team by advertising it on your credit card, you're also supporting it financially because the team makes money every time you use the card.

See related: Charity credit card offers improving -- but are they the best deal?, Determining if cashback is right for you, and which card best suits your needs

Published: 4 November 2014