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American Express Shows Sponsors How It's Done

American Express
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American Express

I'll start with this: Sponsors of athletes, teams, tournaments and facilities, for the most part, do a bad job at maximizing their sponsorships.

They buy signage, they film commercials and they don't do what they're supposed to do, which is engage sports fans by giving them a reason to positively associate their company to the fan experience.

That's why it's so refreshing to see what American Express has done with its sponsorship of the US Open golf and tennis events in recent years.

The company has always been about making it special to be a consumer. Credit card companies face the risk of being differentiated by math — by the interest rates and financing charges and not by service or feeling. American Express has been one of the best sponsors in sports at these events because they you a better fan.

How?

Well, it starts with the very simple, like offering tickets to the event to cardholders before others can buy in the general sale.

At both US Opens they started offering mini televisions to fans on the grounds. Huge. Why? Because anyone who has ever been to these events knows that there's so much ground to cover and you find yourself longing to be at home because you have no idea what's going on other than what is in front of your eyes.

And they stepped it up to an absurd level this year at Congressional where all you have to do is present your card at their tent and you get a 10-minute swing analysis by a PGA professional coach.

I'm not done. American Express also unveiled what might be the single most important innovation in live golf watching. Consumers who enter the company's tent can use the Course Curator.

A big problem with being at a golf tournament is you can't really plan well. That's what this computer program does. It asks you whether you want to walk or sit, who you want to follow or suggests players to follow and maps out your course. It then prints out fact sheets and everything you need to do on small notecards that are hole punched and go around your neck.

AMEX customers come away with an added value experience — that it pays to use American Express. They feel like they got something for nothing. I can't tell you how many times people say, "I just have to show you my card, that's it?"

We don't get that feeling enough with sponsors in sports and that's a shame.

Companies don't have vision, they're lazy and they can't see return on investment if it's a smile instead of something that hits the bottom line.

That makes what American Express does at this two events shine even more.

Full Disclosure: My wife works for American Express, but was not involved in the marketing of either of these promotions.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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