EVENTS & PROMOTIONS;HITTING NEW ALTITUDES;SNOWBOARDING'S OLYMPIC FUTURE, YOUTHFUL APPEAL ATTRACT SPONSORS

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As snowboarding soars toward its debut at the 1998 Winter Olympics, major sponsors are starting to strap themselves to the fast-growing sport.

The fashion-conscious, youth-driven activity, though still a niche sport, is stealing some of skiing's spotlight while drawing more sponsors among beverage, food, apparel and music marketers.

Apparel and music marketers are particularly eyeing snowboarding due to its great appeal among 18-to-34-year-olds, say event marketing observers.

Several new pro snowboard tours will hit the slopes this year backed by sponsors and network TV coverage. ESPN and MTV: Music Television are devoting hours of coverage to the sport.

BUD LIGHT TOUR

Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light signed on late in November as title sponsor of the Bud Light American Snowboard Tour, helping boost the purse to an unprecedented $155,000, plus a $25,000 Bonus Pool prize sponsored by haircare marketer Paul Mitchell.

Bud Light inked a two-year deal, taking it into the 1997-98 season, when winners of the tour will be eligible to compete to be on the first U.S. snowboarding team.

Previously called the American Pro Snowboard Series, the tour is coordinated by Van Nuys, Calif.-based CE Sports, which is still courting sponsors.

General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet has also come aboard as a presenting sponsor. Pep Products is an official product sponsor with its Thunder Bar and Pocket Rocket energy foods. Spin is a marketing partner of the tour, planning several entertainment events at ski resorts.

"Sponsors are coming aboard early and with a lot of enthusiasm, looking ahead to the '98 Olympics and the chance to be part of a brand new sport," said Scott Floyd, a sponsorship coordinator with CE Sports.

Cost to be a presenting sponsor of the Bud Light tour ranges from the middle to high six figures. The tour kicks off this month.

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