OUT OF THE WOODS: TIMBERSPORTS CONTESTS FROM STIHL DRAW BROAD AUDIENCE

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Burly lumberjacks wielding axes and screaming chain saws are drawing crowds to Stihl's annual Timbersports Series competition this month, a powerful tool in extending the reach of the power-equipment brand.

Entering its 14th season, Stihl's Timbersports Series has been steadily gaining momentum in recent years and is now covered on cable TV's ESPN and ESPN2.

In Europe, Timbersports is so hot a German sports network has contracted to air the series for 43 days straight, said Heather Petry, a sales promotion specialist with Stihl.

"Timbersports is helping us expand our brand awareness and add a certain attitude to the brand exemplified by the power and strength of the event's competitors," she said.

MORE THAN WOODSMEN

Each competition draws thousands of spectators ranging from city dwellers to actual woodsmen. Tourist destinations lobby to host the competitions each year as the sport's popularity continues to grow.

A rival series, the "Iron Jack" events, features ax-throwing and log-rolling competitions at public venues. Several are covered each year by cable TV's Outdoor Life Network, and Stihl is a sponsor of that series, as well.

Stihl developed the Timbersports series to promote its logging products, but in recent years the competition's appeal has grown unaccountably.

"People are attracted by the action of logging -- it seems to connect them to history and to the outdoors -- and we're finding a lot of very affluent people among the Timbersports fans," Ms. Petry said.

No. 1 chain saw marketer Stihl is now leveraging the popularity of its Timbersports events to help propel its moves beyond the logging industry into the landscape and construction equipment markets. Its grass and bush trimmers are relatively new in the category and are selling well, and its CutQuick concrete-cutting tool used in the construction industry is one of its fastest sellers, Ms. Petry said.

FINALS IN BRANSON

This year's Timbersports Series pits 28 professional lumberjacks from the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand against one another in six events including chopping wood with axes and chain saws. The first regional event took place Aug. 12-15 at the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; the second begins this week in Oshkosh, Wis. The finals are slated for Oct. 2 in Branson, Mo., where more than 5,000 spectators are expected.

Four events center on ax chopping skills for speed and strength, but the stock saw competition measures skill in using Stihl's 066 Magnum chain saw. In the hot saw event, traditional chain saws are souped up with alternative equipment such as jet-fuel-powered snowmobile engines; competitors can use any kind of engine they can lift.

Prizes for lumberjacks include thousands of dollars, merchandise and a Ford F-150 pickup truck. Sponsors include Carhartt, ESPN, Ford Motor Co. and Quaker State Corp.

OTHER OFFERS

Last year Stihl introduced a full line of apparel and accessories sold at the events, through a mail-in catalog and online (www.stihlusa.

com). Stihl also offers a highlights video of last year's Timbersports competition.

But Ms. Petry said the primary goal of the Stihl Outfitters catalog is to promote the company's brand and expand Stihl's reach into new markets.

Interest in Timbersports is across the board, Ms. Petry said.

"Our core audience is men between 25 and 54 years old, but with Timbersports we draw a lot of families and women and a real diversity of people from rural to

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