AOL Lands Madonna Sponsorship

America Online Inc. is gearing up to sponsor Madonna’s new world tour, in an effort that will promote the Material Girl on its service, while aiming to boost its own membership through the arrangement.

Through terms of an undisclosed agreement with Madonna’s touring company, Bhakti Tours, America Online is set to be the lead sponsor of her new tour in Europe and the U.S., titled “Madonna Drowned World Tour 2001.”

Clearly, the show will be a hot ticket: it’s Madonna’s first live concert tour in eight years, and is being eagerly awaited by fans and music industry insiders alike.

Just as salient is AOL Time Warner’s hand in the effort: since the merger’s formal approval in January, the online-offline media giant has been busy striking cross-property deals for advertisers and internal promotions.

Existing clients Cendant Corp., Continental Airlines and Nortel Networks all recently penned new deals expanding their ad buys to other media in the AOL Time Warner empire. Likewise, through pop-ups and other promotions, AOL has made a brisk business of encouraging users to subscribe to Time, Inc. magazines.

In much the same vein, America Online is now preparing to milk its new tour sponsorship through initiatives that target the sprawling fan base of Madonna, a Warner Bros. recording artist.

“This tour promises to be a blockbuster,” said Kevin Conroy, who heads AOL’s Music unit. “Participating in the Madonna Drowned World Tour 2001 will bring tremendous benefits to the millions of users of AOL’s brands who love everything about Madonna.”

In an effort to leverage the sponsorship into attracting members, AOL will offer tickets to new subscribers before they go on sale to the general public. Beginning May 6, new members will have the opportunity to purchase up to two tickets.

AOL also aims to set up a presence at the concerts to win new subscribers. Through the sponsorship agreement, the online service receives the right to host interactive promotions and signups at concert venues on the tour. AOL also will be featured in the official tour book.

Existing America Online members won’t be left out in the cold, however: they’ll have a chance to buy a limited number of tickets online, starting May 7. The online service also said it would give away additional tickets through a series of online contests, and in other promotions throughout the tour.

Meanwhile, the company is promoting itself as the chief source for information and content from the performances. The company says it plans to offer members an “exclusive virtual backstage pass” to the tour — including concert highlights, photos, video, news and chats.

AOL also said its Music Channel would offer online content related to the tour, including special downloads from the concerts, tour pictures, video clips and interviews.

“Now, AOL members who are Madonna lovers will have a one-stop destination to get advance tickets to concerts, online access to the performances, chats and interviews and much more,” said AOL President Jonathan Sacks. “This is the kind of exciting event programming that is the hallmark of our brands and is certain to be enjoyed by our millions of members.”

Conroy added that AOL hopes to launch similar promotions with other artists, but spokespeople from the company declined to elaborate.

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