AOL SET TO INK MAJOR PACT WITH REEBOK;ALLIANCE SEEN AS FIRST IN WAVE OF INTERACTIVE MOVES FOR THE SHOE MARKETER

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Reebok International is finalizing a multiyear, multimillion-dollar alliance with America Online that could be the computer service's richest marketing deal yet.

The deal also allows for AOL to later be used as an internal communications network for Reebok's sales force.

"We don't have an agreement," said Brenda Goodell, VP-new media and programming at Reebok.

However, industry insiders say the pending deal with AOL is just one of several major interactive marketing initiatives that Reebok is developing and negotiating and will announce soon.

But bringing Reebok aboard would represent a significant step forward for AOL in attracting top advertisers and brand names.

AOL got off to a promising start last year, signing American Express Co., McDonald's Corp. and General Motors Corp.'s Olds-mobile to $200,000 deals. It then hit a dry spell, with some advertisers balking at pricing and others rethinking their interactive media strategies. AOL retooled to include more flexibility and adjusted cost per thousands and recently re-entered the marketplace.

Reebok content could go up on AOL by March 31. However, doing the deal hinges on both sides being able to iron out wrinkles over the program's scope.

Reebok wants a global launch, tapping AOL's presence in Canada, Germany and the U.K. (see related story on Page 6). AOL would prefer starting in the U.S.

The package calls for the creation of a Reebok area, offering content created by both the footwear giant and AOL.

It's not yet known if the area will allow consumers to purchase merchandise, but AOL does want to offer that kind of opportunity.

Reebok and AOL aren't strangers; Reebok recently sponsored AOL's Online Music Awards, an example of the kind of content AOL wants to produce more of as a way of providing more inventory for its advertisers.

NIKE TAKES IT SLOW

Reebok has led its industry in interactive marketing. Nike, the industry's No. 1 marketer, has been moving more slowly. This spring, Nike plans to launch a Web site created by Organic Online, San Francisco.

Nike last fall signed as a sponsor of Microsoft Network, but the deal was put on hold when Microsoft Corp. began converting MSN into a Web-based service. Once the MSN Web service is fully up, Microsoft is expected to reopen sponsorship talks with Nike.

Jane Hodges contributed to this story.

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