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The first-ever Olympics fan club starts accepting members this month, linking consumers and marketers in a database marketing-driven promotional program surrounding the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.

People will be able to join for a fee and receive a membership card to the 1996 Official Centennial Olympics Club, plus memorabilia, pins, T-shirts, newsletters and exclusive collector cards.

The fan club, sanctioned by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, also entitles members to discounts and special offers from participating Olympic sponsors. Marketers will be able to send messages through membership kits.

Official Olympic sponsors Bausch & Lomb, Home Depot, Eastman Kodak Co. and Sara Lee Corp.'s Hanes hosiery division are among those already planning tie-ins to the club; McDonald's Corp. and Coca-Cola Co. are considering it.

Responsive Marketing, a Schaumburg, Ill.-based promotion agency, is coordinating the program.

The fan club, centering initially on the Olympics-developed character Izzy, was introduced in January issues of Olympic sponsor Time Warner's Sports Illustrated for Kids; ads outline membership details. Ads targeting adults will run later in the year, said Anthony Marsiglia, Responsive Marketing's president.

Fees range from $10.50 for a silver membership to $21.50 for a gold membership. The higher fee yields more merchandise, apparel and publications from the club, Mr. Marsiglia said.

To heighten interest in joining, the first 50,000 people to join will receive special "charter member" materials designed for heightened collectible value. The club will also operate a proof-of-purchase program to drive sales of Olympics-licensed merchandise, offering members "Torch Points" for each item they buy through a catalog included in membership materials.

The database generated from the club will be available to tie-in sponsors for a discounted fee, Responsive Marketing said.

The program is yet another example of integrated marketing working its way deeper into brand ad plans, marketing experts said. The fan club, for instance, has its own logo and is likely to be integrated into other Olympics-related advertising.

"Fan clubs are a low-cost, effective way for marketers to create relationships with consumers, and the 1996 Olympics creates a long life cycle for that relationship," said Ron Kaatz, an associate professor of integrated marketing at Northwestern University.

Mr. Marsiglia believes the Olympic fan club will be broadly popular because interest in such groups is growing among families and collectors of limited merchandise and memorabilia.

"The Olympics are broad enough to generate interest from people at many levels," he said, "but it's also a very specific event that everyone can relate to, and it has a lot of emotional appeal to consumers."

Responsive Marketing modeled the program on the 300,000-member Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan club it developed in conjunction with Playmates, which makes toys of the comic-book inspired characters. The huge fan cub has generated long-term customer relationships and product sales through coupons offered to members.

Among other brand loyalty efforts, the agency also developed a successful program for Eveready Battery Co.'s Energizer bunny, including on-package offers for merchandise, apparel and toys driving brand awareness and product sales.

"We've been able to prove that fan clubs get big results," Mr. Marsiglia said, "and more brand managers are seeing them as a powerful form of integrated marketing."M

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