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Volume 20 No. 42
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Nets, Barclays Center sign AmEx

American Express has planted a velvet rope at Barclays Center after the curtain closed on its extended run at Madison Square Garden.

The financial services company has become a founding partner of the Brooklyn Nets and their new arena after signing a five-year deal. Industry sources valued the agreement at more than $2 million annually.

As the official credit card of the Nets and Barclays Center, American Express receives exclusive rights in the payments category, where it can provide the same presale perks and access for card members that it did at MSG, plus naming rights to a pair of arena destinations.

American Express gets naming rights to The 40/40 Club restaurant on the suite level.
American Express filled the same sponsorship category at the Garden for more than 15 years, but that deal ended at the end of last year after the two parties could not agree on the terms of an extension. Their relationship dissolved in part after MSG signed a massive bank deal with JPMorgan Chase in September 2010, confirmed Richard Lehrfeld, American Express’ vice president of global media, sponsorship and experiential marketing.

The two companies coexisted at the Garden for two years. Chase took over the payments category in May 2011, increasing the value of its deal at MSG to $40 million a year (SportsBusiness Journal, May 30-June 5, 2011).

Turning to Brooklyn, American Express saw a golden opportunity to form a new relationship with the Nets at their $1 billion arena opening this fall, the first NBA facility constructed in New York in 45 years. The two parties started talks about 12 months ago, Nets officials said.

Those discussions, with Wasserman Media Group assisting on the buy side, led to one of the most comprehensive sports deals for American Express, including naming rights to both The 40/40 Club restaurant on a suite level and the arena’s box office. The official name of the restaurant has not been decided, Nets officials said.

It is an aggressive move for American Express, which is also a leaguewide sponsor of the NBA. Outside of New York, the brand has a major presence in Los Angeles as a founding partner of Staples Center and L.A. Live. American Express has its name on a premium lounge at Staples Center, which is the only other major league facility where the company has naming rights to a dining and hospitality space.

“We don’t put our name on a lot of things because it’s really about how we can support our card members and build access programs,” Lehrfeld said. “But this is our backyard [with its headquarters in Manhattan] and New York is our largest market. It was an interesting opportunity presented to us, and we thought we would take it on and do it.”

American Express has its name on express lanes at ticket windows at other venues, but the Barclays Center deal is the first time the company has its brand atop a facility’s entire ticketing operation. The American Express Box Office and its 12 ticket windows inside Barclays Center’s main entrance will be one of the first commercial signs patrons see as they enter the building, said Brett Yormark, CEO of Barclays Center and the Nets.

American Express’ partnership extends to exclusive amenities for its card members, a critical piece of its marketing efforts at all sports and entertainment venues where it has a presence, Lehrfeld said.

Card members get early access to tickets and merchandise for all events. That piece of activation has already kicked in with early on-sales for Jay-Z’s eight-show residency to open Barclays Center starting in late September, and for Barbra Streisand, Andrea Bocelli and Journey.

In addition, American Express acquired the exclusive rights to develop special experiences for card members such as attending a Nets practice and participating in a meet-and-greet session with the team’s coaching staff, Lehrfeld said.

American Express card members also get access to private events at The 40/40 Club and preferred seating at the restaurant. Jay-Z, part of the Nets’ ownership group, owns the restaurant brand. The restaurant has two other locations, in Manhattan and Atlantic City.

As part of the deal, American Express bought one of 11 event-level Vault suites, Yormark said. Those bunkers are valued at $550,000 a year.

American Express’ deal with the Nets will not conflict with earlier deals they signed with Barclays bank, the arena’s naming-rights holder, and Ticketmaster, a founding partner and the facility’s official ticketing provider, Lehrfeld said.

American Express issues credit cards through Barclays, which owns the facility’s banking category, and American Express has a partnership with Ticketmaster through its ticket access and membership reward program.

“The U.S. Open [where American Express has a high-profile deal that runs through 2015] has Chase as a sponsor,” Lehrfeld said. “The key for us is making sure we can still provide for our customers and the bank gets what they want.”

Beyond Barclays, the arena has eight founding partners. Two more deals will be announced in the coming weeks, and the Nets are selling two more, in the airline and technology categories, Yormark said.