AOL Bets Big on the Big Game

By Susan Kuchinskas

America Online is expected to announce Wednesday that it has signed on as official presenting sponsor of the “The AOL Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show,” to be produced by MTV.

Dulles, Va.-based America Online, a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner ( Quote ,Chart ) will unveil three new 30-second spots, which are still in development, for the occasion. BBDO Worldwide is AOL’s agency of record, but an AOL spokesperson could not confirm what agency is handling the creative. In November, AOL put its interactive creative and media accounts in review. Interactive has been handled by atmosphereBBDO.

AOL will milk the sponsorship — and its NFL connection — for all it’s worth. For a week before the February 1 football game, it will host an interactive theme park in Houston offering entertainment and displays. Immediately after the game, AOL will post its annual Super Bowl Commercial Showcase, offering its members streams of the big-budget, high-concept ads the football extravaganza famously attracts. The showcase will include exclusive behind-the-scenes Super Bowl content.

With the launch of its AOL 9.0 Optimized this year, the ISP has made a number of big pushes to hold onto current subscribers — which is critical to attracting the advertisers it hopes will drive a reversal of its fortunes. Besides the re-vamped main version of its service, AOL has launched versions for kids and Hispanics, and is working on a version aimed at teens. The company believes tailoring user experiences for different niches will increase customer satisfaction. It will also provide more targeted advertising opportunities on the service.

Earlier this year, AOL and the NFL announced an expanded strategic alliance that provides a wide variety of NFL video and audio content through NFL@AOL, available free for broadband subscribers. The ISP has similar deals with other major sports leagues.