GM TO SPONSOR WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: CARMAKER BACKS WNBA; ALSO TIES TO SONY COMPLEX

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General Motors Corp. is expected to announce today that it has inked a deal with the new Women's National Basketball Association to be its exclusive automotive sponsor.

The three-year pact is worth an estimated $12 million to $15 million.

In a smaller deal, GM has signed on as the exclusive auto sponsor of Sony Corp.'s Star Theatre Entertainment Complex, under construction in the Detroit suburb of Southfield. The contract could increase substantially because GM is studying whether to take the program national as Sony builds more theater complexes.

"Our deals with the WNBA and Sony extend GM's commitment to find better ways to showcase our company and its brands to consumers," said Phil Guarascio, VP-general manager of marketing and advertising at GM's North American Operations.

GM in the past 18 months has been aggressively pursuing non-traditional marketing, including its 1996 Olympics sponsorship, the Concept Cure breast cancer research fund-raiser and deals with Walt Disney Co.

CAUSE-RELATED MOVES

The carmaker expects to do a cause-related promotion tied to the women's basketball league before its season starts June 21.

"GM has a real track record for putting resources behind its sponsorships," said WNBA President Val Ackerman. "We're looking forward to their innovative approaches to help fuel the incredible growth in women's sports."

The ad agencies involved will depend on which GM brands participate in the WNBA deal. If the umbrella GM brand gets involved, GM corporate agency N.W. Ayer & Partners, New York, would handle.

DISPLAYS AT SONY VENUE

No decision has been made on an agency for the Sony Star Theatre deal, said GM's Dean Rotondo, communications manager at North American Operations. GM expects to have product displays at the complex, but additional plans are in the works.

The 20-screen theater complex, set to open in May, will contain several restaurants and stores.

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