Exclusive: MasterCard, Universal eye $100 mil deal

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Vivendi Universal Entertainment's Universal Studios is close to making a $100 million to $125 million multiyear entertainment marketing deal with MasterCard International, according to a number of entertainment marketing executives.

The deal would primarily focus on Universal Studios' theme parks, which are located in California, Florida, Japan and Spain, but would also include major marketing efforts around Universal Pictures and its Universal Studios Home Video releases.

Other divisions might also be included, such as Universal Music Group.

One marketing executive expects that MasterCard's highly regarded "Priceless" campaign will be incorporated with some of Universal Studios' brand names. A Universal Pictures spokeswoman would not comment; phone messages were left for a number of MasterCard marketing executives, who did not return calls.

According to one executive close to the firm, MasterCard will commit some $20 million to $30 million a year in paid advertising media toward Universal's entertainment marketing efforts. In exchange, the credit card company will get to use many of the Universal icons and brands, such as "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial," "Jurassic Park" and "The Mummy." MasterCard will also pay about $10 million as a licensing fee.

It is also likely that MasterCard will become the preferred card in Universal theme parks, where consumers could receive specific discounts, according to executives. MasterCard could also get first-look rights for many upcoming Universal movies and home video releases.

Universal made a similar deal with Toyota Motor Sales USA in 2001, when it signed a $100 million, three-year deal (with a two-year option), which included participating Universal theme parks, first look rights to use Toyota in movies, home video and DVD releases.

Theme parks and music

Toyota sponsors several theme park attractions, including "Back to the Future-The Ride" at Universal Studios. The Toyota brand name is also seen throughout Universal's "CityWalk" retail and restaurant areas in Orlando, Fla., and Universal City, Calif. Recently, for the rerelease of "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial," Toyota promoted a tie-in through print advertising for its Sienna minivan, which was a natural tie-in for the family-oriented movie.

MasterCard will try to work with Universal Music Group, part of Toyota's deal as well. For instance, Universal could put together special compilation CDs or give MasterCard access to Universal music for its commercials. Universal may look to MasterCard to help introduce new music artists in its commercials.

Universal has a number of other partners, including Coca-Cola Co. and Eastman Kodak, who are mostly tied to its theme parks.

Stephanie Sperber, senior VP- global alliances for Universal Pictures, is the point person on this deal. Previously, she had worked on the other company-wide pacts with Toyota and Kodak. Universal Pictures recently created the Branch Group to manage the studio's long-term franchises. It is headed by exec VP Beth Goss, who primarily handles film and home video entertainment marketing deals. Both Ms. Goss and Ms. Sperber report to Marc Shmuger, vice chairman of Universal Pictures.

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