GYMNASTICS' TURN:SPORT'S GOAL IS TO EMULATE SKATING AS FAMILY-FRIENDLY ATHLETIC ACTIVITY

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Sponsors are starting to flip for gymnasts.

As the Olympics near, the personalities and drama of gymnastics look like they might generate as much star-studded entertainment and product endorsement action as ice skating did following the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Commercial endorsements of gymnasts are already shaping up-U.S. team hopeful Dominique Dawes currently appears in network TV spots for Eastman Kodak Co., via J. Walter Thompson USA, New York. But even before the torch reaches Atlanta, a series of post-Olympics gymnastics events are in the works.

JOHN HANCOCK TOUR

Jefferson Pilot and Bill Graham Presents will produce the John Hancock 1996 Tour of World Gymnastics Champions, with John Hancock Life Insurance Co. as title sponsor. The tour, sanctioned by USA Gymnastics, will visit 30 markets between Sept. 20 and Nov. 17.

"Figure skating has changed the whole scope of what's possible about gymnastics," said Sheryl Shade, president of Shade Global, which handles U.S. gymnast Dominique Moceanu and is assisting in the marketing of the John Hancock tour.

Ms. Shade's theory: "Both [skating and gymnastics] present family-friendly alternatives to pro sports. And with more media and a bigger audience in general, there is more of a demand for this kind of [entertainment] product."

The tour will be telecast Oct. 27 on ESPN. Also included are on-site clinics and retail tie-ins. McDonald's Corp. is considering a "national subsponsor," and a toy marketer is being sought, say tour organizers.

USA Gymnastics has also sanctioned a number of new made-for-TV events for shortly after the Olympics: Fox has "The Ultimate Gymnastics Challenge: Team USA vs. the World" on Aug. 20, and ESPN has "The World Professional Gymnastics Championship" on Sept. 30, Oct. 7 and Oct. 14.

Product and promotional tie-ins have not yet been determined, but the 14-year-old media-savvy ingenue Ms. Moceanu has already penned her autobiography, Bantam's "Dominique Moceanu: An American Champion." It arrives in bookstores today.

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