OLYMPICS GLIDE SKATING INTO NETWORK'S FAST LANE

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The highest-rated Winter Olympics in history has turned figure and speed skating into hot sports, and TV networks and star athletes are moving quickly to capitalize on opportunities before they melt away.

Already, CBS has reached an agreement with U.S. figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, who won a silver medal last month at the Winter Games in Lillehammer, to produce a figure skating special to air near Christmas.

CBS is also said to be chasing the International Skating Union's TV package that includes rights to a variety of skating championship events. NBC owns the current ISU package that expires next year and is expected to make a strong effort to keep it; ABC also figures to be a contender.

Media buyers agree figure skating is a hot sport but urged the networks not to get burned.

"There's going to be active bidding, but if there's oversaturation, viewers are going to get tired of it. And if rights fees get too high, advertisers won't pay for it," said Steve Auerbach, exec VP-national broadcast at DeWitt Media, New York.

A media backlash against Ms. Kerrigan shows Americans already may be growing weary of the skater, who received a deluge of hype and news after the Jan. 6 attack on her by associates of her rival, Tonya Harding.

Ms. Kerrigan's agent sympathizes. "I don't blame them for getting sick of this. Enough is enough," said Jerry Solomon, president of ProServ.

The Kerrigan backlash reached a high point last week when the skater was overheard complaining how "corny" it was to be wearing her silver medal in a parade with Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney World. Ms. Kerrigan signed a $1 million endorsement deal with Walt Disney Co. last month.

Besides Reebok International and Campbell Soup Co., Ms. Kerrigan has signed deals that include TV spots for Revlon, a line of Nancy Kerrigan dolls and a sports card collection from Topps Trading Card Co.

Agents for other Winter Olympic athletes, like figure skating gold medalist Oksana Baiul, are watching closely.

"I want to move slowly and intelligently. I want to be careful not to do or say anything that will hurt Oksana," said Ms. Baiul's agent, Michael Rosenberg.

M&M/Mars-marketer of Ms. Baiul's favorite U.S. snack, Snickers-and a prominent Hollywood production company are said to be among those chasing the 16-year-old Ukrainian.

Mr. Rosenberg's sentiment is shared by agents for speed skater Dan Jansen, another gold medalist.

"The Kerrigan-Harding story needs to die," said Fred Fried, exec VP at Integrated Sports International, a sports marketing company in East Rutherford, N.J. "Stories like Dan Jansen's need to endure."

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