In what looks to be the first deal in a new sponsorship push, Discover Financial Services has forged a first-time partnership with Illinois Swimming on behalf of its Discover credit cards.

Although Discover Financial turned down a request to comment on the deal, a spokesman indicated the company will announce “significant” sponsorship developments this spring.

The new partnership may serve as a template for such future sponsorship activity.

As part of the deal, Discover gains preferred card status of Illinois Swimming, the second-largest of 59 Local Swim Committees affiliated with national governing body USA Swimming. Illinois Swimming oversees more than 116 clubs, 17,000 registered athletes and 2,000 coaches and officials.

In addition to preferred status, the two-year partnership also affords signage and announcements at all age-group and senior swim meets, as well as title sponsorship of the Top Ten Times List on ILSwim.org, one of the Web site’s most visited pages.

Discover will leverage the partnership to promote card usage and reward Illinois Swimming members.

For example, swimmers and officials who use Discover cards to purchase apparel and supplies from The Swim Team Store—an Illinois Swimming cosponsor—will receive a property co-branded tote bag, while card holders who purchase souvenirs at events from Northwest Designs—an Illinois Swimming licensee—will receive a co-branded folding seat.

In addition, consumers who use Discover cards to purchase tickets to swim meets will receive a Discover gift card.

The just-announced partnership represents a significant accomplishment for Illinois Swimming, because the sport typically falls off the radar screen after the Olympic Summer Games, said Pete Kozura, the organization’s executive director.

“Hopefully we can change that with this sponsorship to get more visibility,” he said.

Discover has not had a significant presence in sponsorship for many years. It’s most recent activity focused on team and league deals with MLS, the WNBA and the defunct AFL.

Most of those deals were dropped in the last several years as the company was spun off from Morgan Stanley and the financial crisis hit. The company currently has partnerships with Children’s Miracle Network and Make-A-Wish Foundation of America.