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Why it's time to score a sports team's credit card

Applying for a sports league or team credit card might be a home run, even if you're not a sports fan.

A new analysis from CreditCards.com found that some of the cards offer valuable benefits for consumers, including low interest rates, generous sign-up bonuses and practical rewards. "The cards stack up surprisingly well against the competition," said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. "It's clear the card issuers have realized that people would rather have cold hard cash than just discounts on team gear."

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For example, the NHL Discover it—like Discover's standard cash-back card—offers 1 percent cash back on all purchases and 5 percent bonuses in rotating quarterly categories (currently home improvement stores, department stores and Amazon.com), no annual fee, free FICO scores for users and an extra cash back bonus at the end of the first year. Plus it has the added perk of 10 percent off NHL gear.

Regular APRs for the BBVA Compass NBA cards start at 9.24 percent, said Schulz, which is lower than the low-interest market average of 11.62 percent. Cardholders get double rewards at gas stations and grocery stores, triple rewards on NBA tickets and in-stadium purchases and a 20 percent rebate on NBAStore.com spending. (The bank is waiving the $50 annual fee "for life" for applications approved before Aug. 31.)

BBVA NBA American Express card
Source: PR Newswire

That said, sports-themed credit cards aren't a win for everyone. "Like with any credit card, in order to get the most out of it, you have to know yourself and how you use the card," Schulz said. Card APRs span a wide range, which can get expensive for someone who doesn't have stellar credit and even occasionally carries a balance.

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Bank of America's MLB cards range from 12.99 percent to 22.99 percent, while those BBVA Compass cards range as high as 29.24 percent. "Ranges are pretty common, but that big of a range is noteworthy," he said. Most cards also have a foreign transaction fee, making them a bad deal for international travelers.

Nor is a sports-themed card a prerequisite for getting great ticket deals. "The situation where it would make sense for a fan to get a card in order to save money on tickets, that's few and far between," said Connor Gregoire, a spokesman for event ticket marketplace SeatGeek. Savings can often be greater on the secondary market, particularly for procrastinators.

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Consumers looking for presale tickets, exclusive seats or discounts can often access those opportunities with any card from a particular issuer or brand, said Chris Matcovich, vice president of data for secondary market aggregator TiqIQ.com. Citi, American Express and MasterCard in particular have robust presale and private experience offers for cardholders, he said.

Individual teams and leagues may also have partnerships with credit card issuers. For example, Citi, which bought the naming rights to the Mets' Citi Field, offers credit and debit cardholders special deals on select home games. Go team!