- Associated Press - Monday, July 5, 2010

NEW YORK | The National Football League’s decision to move its branded credit-card business from Bank of America to British banker Barclays is forcing customers of the Charlotte, N.C., bank to scramble to spend reward points before they expire next month.

On message boards, in between talk about upcoming training camps, fans are discussing how they’ll spend their points in Bank of America’s “NFL Extra Points” program. They have until the end of August, just before Barclays‘ new program begins in September.

Fans can get a one-hour appearance from the Denver Broncos mascot Miles for 40,000 points, Pittsburgh Steelers head-rest covers for 3,250 points, or replica team jerseys for 10,400 points. Fans also can buy “experiences” such as visiting the playing field before the game. A point typically equals $1 spent on the card.

There’s a giant countdown clock ticking away the time on the program’s site, www.nflextrapoints.com — 56 days as of Tuesday.

Ann Weinzimmer has racked up about 5,000 points on her Cleveland Browns card. The 33-year-old Cleveland lawyer is frustrated that her accounts seem to keep changing ownership. She’s planning to look for better point deals rather than get a new NFL card.

Ms. Weinzimmer — who notes she’s really more of a Cincinnati Bengals fan — will probably spend her points on baseball caps. “I might as well, otherwise you’re just throwing it away,” she said.

The market for credit cards affiliated with sports teams, universities or other special-interest ventures has been growing and consolidating amid the financial shakeout. The NFL likes having credit-card partners because it gets a cut of the business beyond the initial payment for the rights to the franchise. Credit-card companies like the programs because rabid fans don’t need much convincing to sign up.

Bank of America Corp. won’t say why it and the NFL failed to reach agreement on an extension of a contract it has held since 1995. It is still the official bank of Major League Baseball and for four NFL teams, the Washington Redskins, New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys, which let it issue debit cards with their logos but not credit cards.

The NFL, which announced the deal with Barclays last month, declined further comment.

Bank of America’s credit-card business is large. It reached a peak of $184 billion in balances outstanding in 2008, but it was stung in the recession by growing defaults. The default rate went from 3.9 percent in 2006 after it acquired MBNA to 11.2 percent by the end of 2009, though the rate has started to improve.

The sticking point in the NFL talks may have been the issue of debit cards, said Odysseas Papadimitriou, a former executive with Capital One and now CEO of CardHub.com, a credit-card comparison site.

Banks prefer debit cards because customers usually keep their accounts longer — which means less work to land new accounts. And customers are also less likely to run up debt because debit-card charges are automatically deducted from customers’ checking accounts.

Bank of America may have wanted only to have debit cards accumulate NFL points, Mr. Papadimitriou said, while the NFL likely wanted to also include credit cards because people typically spend more with those cards, making the business more valuable.



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