EVENTS & PROMOTIONS;FIGURE SKATING BLOSSOMS INTO POPULAR VENUE TO REACH WOMEN ;HARDING FACTOR: LOOKING FOR WOMEN

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Start with graceful athleticism, add a touch of competition and a pinch of scandal, and you get one of TV's hottest dishes: figure skating.

Fans love it, ratings have soared and sponsors are eating it up. The explosion in made-for-TV ice skating programs was sparked with the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding controversy of the 1994 Winter Olympics.

"As unfortunate as the [Harding-Kerrigan] incident was, it brought attention, which changed the face of skating," said Carole Shulman, executive director of the Professional Skaters Association.

In the aftermath, dozens of new TV competitions and shows were created. The number of established skating events surged from five professional competitions in 1993 to a total of 67 different events, most of which were competitions, in 1995. These events garnered an estimated $600 million in revenue, including sponsorship dollars, up from $20 million just a decade ago.

Sponsors from cosmetics marketers to life insurance companies quickly spun into action, eager to target skating's mostly female, somewhat upscale audience.

"The people who've made skating so popular are our target audience," said Howard Schacter, VP of the Kemper Lesnik Organization, Chicago, which handles NutraSweet's sponsorship.

New sponsor State Farm Insurance Cos. was also attracted to skating's demographics.

"We've found that more women are making insurance decisions in their households, whether it's life insurance or home insurance," said Karen Noel, advertising staff assistant at State Farm.

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