Barclaycard and the Mercury Prize have joined forces on a four-year partnership that sees the credit card company become title sponsor of the prestigious U.K. music award.

Effective immediately, Barclaycard -- an arm of global financial services provider Barclays -- takes over from building society Nationwide, which had sponsored the event since 2004.

The annual U.K. "album of the year award" was launched in 1992 in an attempt to boost flagging summer record sales, backed by labels body the BPI and the British Assn. of Record Dealers (now known as the Entertainment Retailers Assn.). It established a template used for similar awards in the United States (The Shortlist), Canada (the Polaris Prize) and Australia (the Australian Music Prize), all of which aim to judge albums using creative rather than sales criteria.

Previous Mercury winners include Suede, Dizzee Rascal, Arctic Monkeys, Klaxons and Elbow, took the 2008 prize for their breakthrough set "The Seldom Seen Kid" (Fiction/Polydor). The winner each year is chosen by a 12-strong panel representing artists and the media.

Paul Troy, head of advertising and sponsorship at Barclaycard said in a statement: "The Mercury Prize has always represented the huge creativity and diversity found in U.K. music. We are delighted that through this new partnership Barclaycard will be able to help the Mercury Prize take its valuable recommendations to an even wider audience."

Mercury Prize director of marketing Dan Ford said that Barclaycard's "innovative and cutting edge values make them an ideal partner for the Mercury Prize."

In addition to the headline sponsorship deal, the new partnership will see several as-yet-unspecified music initiatives introduced, including live music events to be held monthly at the Hospital Club in London throughout the year as the Barclaycard Mercury Prize Sessions.

Nominees for the 2009 Barclaycard Mercury Prize will be announced on July 21. The winner will be announced at a televised ceremony on Sept. 8.