Cardless, a co-brand of five professional sports teams, might also soon debut co-branded credit card products in other industries, such as travel or fashion.
One of my favorite things about working at CreditCards.com is meeting with entrepreneurs who are doing interesting things to shake up the payments industry. I recently had an engaging chat with Michael Spelfogel. He co-founded Cardless three years ago – while he was in his early 20s – and currently serves as the company’s president. Fun fact: he currently has 235 credit cards. Yes, personally. Crazy, right?
A Stanford University graduate and a former employee of Visa, Lyft and The Points Guy (which, like CreditCards.com, is owned by Red Ventures), Spelfogel is focusing Cardless around three of his favorite things: credit cards, sports and data science.
Cardless is the co-brand credit card partner of five professional sports teams. These include the National Basketball Association’s Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Pelicans, the Miami Marlins of Major League Baseball and English Premier League powerhouse Manchester United. That’s a very impressive list of partnerships.
Where did all the sports credit cards go?
My first question to Spelfogel pertained to the broader sports credit card landscape. Many sports credit cards have disappeared from the market in recent years. For example, Bank of America and Major League Baseball recently ended their credit card agreement, the NFL Extra Points Credit Card is in the process of switching from Barclays to Alliance Data Systems Corporation and the BBVA Compass NBA Credit Card was discontinued in 2017.
Among the four major North American pro sports leagues, only the National Hockey League is currently accepting applications for credit cards branded with each of its teams’ logos (via an arrangement with Discover).
What’s going on, and how can Cardless succeed where much larger financial institutions have seemingly failed?
Spelfogel believes his company’s secret sauce is how Cardless tailors card offers to potential customers. For instance, Bank of America’s MLB cards were an affinity marketing play because cardholders could display their favorite team’s logo on the card, but the rewards structure was the same 3-2-1 format as the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card. That is, 3% cash back in an eligible category of the cardholder’s choosing, 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 1% on all other purchases (with a $2,500 combined quarterly spending cap on the 3% and 2% categories). It’s a solid card, but other than the logo, there wasn’t a direct tie-in for baseball fans.
Cardless is offering rewards aligned much more directly with cardholders’ favorite teams. The Celtics card, for example, gives 10% off purchases at the team’s official online shop and 7 points per dollar on Celtics tickets (along with 7 points per dollar on select rideshare and streaming services, 4 points per dollar at bars and restaurants, 2 points per dollar at grocery stores and drugstores and 1 point per dollar on everything else).
How to redeem
These points are worth 1 cent apiece when you redeem them for statement credits and 1.25 cents apiece toward Fanatics.com gift cards. You can also use them to get game tickets and merchandise (such as 30,000 points for a basketball signed by Celtics legend Larry Bird).
While each of the five Cardless offerings has the same introductory bonus (30,000 points after spending $2,000 in three months), the spending rewards categories vary a bit from card to card.
A modern card for today’s fans
Besides focused rewards, Spelfogel believes another one of Cardless’s major selling points is its digital-first emphasis. Potential cardholders could see an advertisement in a stadium, scan a QR code, apply for the card and be approved in seconds, with a virtual card available immediately via their phone’s mobile wallet. Cardholders subsequently receive a physical card in the mail.
Cardless processes on the Mastercard network, and like the Apple Credit Card*, the credit card number is not printed on the card itself. If you need to locate it for any reason (such as typing the number into a web form for an online purchase), you can find it in the company’s app. There are some security advantages to this approach, including the ability to easily obtain a new card number if the previous number was compromised by fraud.
What’s next for Cardless
While Cardless has gotten off to a successful start via a series of sports partnerships, Spelfogel believes the company has much broader potential. He says Cardless could quickly debut co-branded credit card products in other industries, possibly including travel and/or fashion. The underlying technology is very flexible and the company’s mission to deliver customized value to consumers and brand partners has huge growth potential.
Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at email@example.com and I’d be happy to help.
* All information about the Apple Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.