UNIVERSAL LINKS UP WITH NASCAR: FIRST FORAY HAS RACER PROMOTING PARK RIDE

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Universal Studios Consumer Products Group is entering sports marketing with a motor sports initiative to back the studio's properties and create new product.

The program was launched last weekend at Nascar's "The Winston" race in Charlotte, N.C. Under a deal with driver Jeff Gordon, through his JG Motorsports entity, "Jurassic Park: The Ride" was painted on the hood of his car.

While the sponsorship promotes the attraction at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, it also comes just two weeks before the debut of Universal's film "The Lost World: Jurassic Park."

The sponsorship, estimated in the low six figures, was only for last weekend's race. But given that Universal and JG Motorsports are leveraging their association to produce a line of licensed merchandise, the one-time-only sponsorship also serves to position the products as collectibles.

T-SHIRTS, LICENSE PLATES

Among the program's licensees are Hasbro, Toy Biz and Sports Image, Mr. Gordon's largest licensee. Sports Image will market a variety of products, from T-shirts to license plates, featuring a new Universal Sports logo. The products, ranging in price from $2.99 to $100, will be sold nationally through mass merchandisers.

Universal is the latest entertainment entity to use a motor sports sponsorship to garner exposure and link the energy of the sport with its brand. Recently, the National Hockey League got involved with Nascar's Craftsman Truck Series. The NHL is also pondering merchandising opportunities.

By linking the sponsorship to Jurassic Park: The Ride, Universal sidesteps any potential for conflicting overlap with Mercedes-Benz of North America, a promo partner on the film. Still, said Tim Rothwell, senior VP-sales, licensing and merchandising at Universal Studios Consumer Products Group, "anything to do with the `Jurassic Park' franchise will hype awareness for the movie."

Mr. Rothwell wouldn't comment on upcoming motor sports sponsorships or if Universal will get into any other sports, saying only, "We see an exciting future in sports, but our future plans are `To be announced.' "

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