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Bank renews sponsorship, clears way for Sox accounts

Bank of America Corp. signed an eight-year renewal of its sponsorship of the Boston Red Sox, ensuring its logo will remain prominent in Fenway Park through 2015 and clearing the way for the creation of Sox-branded bank accounts.

As part of the seven-figure deal, the bank is starting a marketing push for its Red Sox "Extra Bases" credit card, which was launched during last year's Major League Baseball All-Star break and has about 10,000 members. It is one of 23 cards the bank has issued with major league teams that allow consumers to accrue one point for every dollar they spend on retail purchases, then redeem those points on perks like special messages on Fenway Park's scoreboard during a game or tossing out the first pitch at a World Series game.

The new deal is more than twice as long as Bank of America's typical three-year sports sponsorships. Executives said that will give Bank of America time to develop checking and savings accounts and a debit card that also would carry the Sox logo.

"When you get an opportunity to cement our brands with one of the most iconic teams in baseball, I think you do that deal," said Jake Frego , Bank of America's senior vice president of card services.

So-called affinity cards such as the Red Sox Extra Bases card were a hallmark of MBNA Corp. , a credit card issuer Bank of America acquired in 2006 for $35 billion . MBNA lured customers to the cards by partnering with schools, teams, and other groups with loyal constituencies, and tying purchases to rewards like vacations or discounts on sports tickets.

Buying MBNA was a way for Bank of America to extend the affinity concept to its checking and savings accounts, which it did for the first time last year by offering fans the chance to get checks bearing the New England Patriots' logo. It plans to do the same with Red Sox bank accounts once they are developed, allowing customers to accrue rewards points through those accounts, Frego said.

In 2004 , Bank of America paid to become a sponsor of Major League Baseball , Little League Baseball , Minor League Baseball, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Last year, it extended the major league sponsorship through 2010 , and the bank also has individual sponsorships with 10 major league teams.

"If sponsors get into a property, they want to be in all the way, to own something," said Chip Tuttle , a partner at Conover Tuttle Pace , a Boston advertising and sports marketing firm. "Rather than doing a little bit of baseball and a little bit of football and a little bit of PGA, they want to own a particular sport and that may be what Bank of America is doing here."

Frego noted the bank sponsors several other sports and teams, but said baseball was a good fit because the length of its season and the demographics of its fans make it a good vehicle for reaching consumers.

Red Sox fans seem to be responding well to the sponsorship. Since the rewards cards appeared, Sox fans have accrued almost 3 million points , with every point equal to a dollar spent. Getting a message on Fenway Park's scoreboard costs 3,000 points; throwing out the first pitch at a World Series game costs 100,000 points.

At least one fan -- not from Boston -- did redeem enough baseball credit card points to throw out a pitch during last year's series, Frego said.

Keith Reed can be reached at reed@globe.com.

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