Penalty! Fans pay a price for loyalty

It's nearly impossible to score a decent interest rate with a football-club-branded financial product

You may still be trying to get the monotonous buzz of the vuvuzela out of your head, but yet another football season is now upon us.

The first round of Championship games has already been played and this week the start-whistle on the multi-billion-pound Premiership will be blown. Football fans will be expected to dig deep in their pockets for tickets, travel and replica kit. But most of the big clubs hope that supporter loyalty will stretch that little bit further to include financial services such as savings accounts, credit cards and even the odd mortgage.

"Affinity products branded in club colours have been around for a while and they have a steady following of supporters," says Kevin Mountford from the financial comparison website Moneysupermarket.com.

"Some supporters like to feel a sense of belonging by flashing their club credit card, or paying money into a club-branded savings account. They will even put up with moderate rates in order for that buzz," Mr Mountford says.

But at what cost does this buzz of belonging come? Research from the financial information service Moneyfacts shows that the interest rate earned on such savings accounts is well below the best buys and even the average paying accounts. In some instances, interest earned is close to zero.

Ten of the 20 clubs in England's Premier League offer a savings account. Eight of these are run by the Britannia and pay just 0.12 per cent on £5,000. This equates to £6 in interest earned over a year, and that's before tax, as none of the club savings accounts on offer in the Premier League or the Championship qualify for ISA status, so tax is due at your marginal rate. For supporters of West Brom and Birmingham the prospects are even less appetising, with interest on £5,000 savings just 0.05 per cent. Holding £5,000 in the Albion Premier Saver and Blues Super Saver will earn you just £2.50, and again that's before tax.

Followers of clubs further down the football food chain fare a little better. The Donny Rovers Saver, say, pays 1 per cent on £5,000, as does the Leeds United Saver. But, again, even these rates are a long way from best buys. On £5,000 Moneyfacts reveals that you can earn 4.75 per cent at the ICICI bank on a five-year bond, or 3 per cent from Northern Rock on a cash ISA. As for fans of Scunthorpe, Cardiff, Crystal Palace, Hull, Norwich, QPR, Millwall and Sheffield United, they will receive a paltry 0.1 per cent from Norwich and Peterborough for their loyalty.

As for credit cards, by far the biggest provider is MBNA, which has deals running with Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Newcastle, as well as a host of other big-name clubs. They charge a uniform 16.9 per cent on purchases and offer three months interest-free on new purchases, and 12 months free on balance transfers. Again, this is a long way shy of best buy. "You can get 6.8 per cent from Barclaycard's Simplicity Visa, 16 months free balance transfer through Clydesdale and Yorkshire bank, and 0 per cent on new purchases through the Tesco credit card," says Michelle Slade of Moneyfacts. Clubs making the most of fan loyalty even extend into the mortgage market, with Man Utd, one of the world's richest clubs, offering supporters a range of three- and five-year tracker mortgages, provided, again, by the Britannia.

But the headline interest rate isn't frankly what club accounts are about. Many fans choose a club savings account or credit card because the financial institution running it siphons off some of the interest paid, or money spent, on the card to the club they follow.

"This is, for many fans, the main reason why they choose these products. They think of it as a painless way to support their club, forgoing a little interest, or, in the case of credit cards, seeing a portion of the cash they spend benefit their club," Ms Slade says.

As a rule of thumb, around 1 per cent of interest on a savings account goes to the club and, interestingly, this has remained steady during this period of historically low returns for savers, with the money the fan receives, rather than the club's portion, being cut by the provider.

Some of the accounts and cards on offer pay money directly into the club's youth academy; others simply get swallowed up in the general club coffers.

"Fans of Chelsea and Liverpool and some of the lower league clubs know that interest on the money they save or the fraction of their credit card spend will go into the development of young players, so they may be able to see a tangible benefit in the years to come on the pitch," says Mr Mountford. "Others, though, may not realise that their sacrifice may well go to pay a bit of the interest on the club's debts – the debts of the millionaire owners."

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