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Randy (The Natural) Couture

Neil Davidson

Corporations love being associated with superstar athletes, big-time movie stars or popular rock bands. But H1N1?

The global H1N1 flu pandemic is proving to be a marketing bonanza for many companies that have turned the virus into a sponsorship frenzy.

From trade conventions to baseball games, mixed martial arts fights and even the Vancouver Olympics, business is booming for corporate sponsorships tied to the H1N1 virus.

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On Monday, California-based Bio-Clean Inc. announced it is sponsoring Randy (The Natural) Couture in his upcoming Ultimate Fighting Championship match against Brandon Vera. The company said the sponsorship would be an excellent way to showcase its Clean Kill hand sanitizer which, it added, "is the world's best choice in the battle against H1N1."

"The company believes that Randy (The Natural) Couture embodies the All-American image of strength and intelligence that Bio-Clean's Clean Kill Personal Hand Sanitizing Weapon is designed to portray," Bio-Clean said in a press release.

In Vancouver, Terry Owen said few people had ever heard of his company, ALDA PharmaceuticalsCorp. , when it signed a sponsorship deal last summer with the Vancouver Olympics.

The deal made ALDA the first "official supplier of hand sanitizers and disinfectant cleaning products for the Games," according to Olympic organizers. Now Mr. Owen said ALDA can barely keep up with demand for its T36 hand sanitizers.

"With the H1N1 pandemic coming at the same time [as the sponsorship deal]and there being kind of a shortage of hand sanitizers in the market right now, everything has really kind of aligned in our favour," Mr. Owen said Monday. "Nobody had heard of us and we went basically from zero to hero overnight with the [Olympic]sponsorship. It was a huge big deal for us."

Fear of H1N1 and other potential health hazards prompted organizers of the 2010 Cable Show in Los Angeles to offer a sponsorship spot for the convention's "official hand sanitizer."

For $20,000 (U.S.), "your brand appears on individual-size hand sanitizer bottles distributed at registration and the information kiosks throughout the convention centre," the organizers said on the website of the convention, which brings together hundreds of cable television and telecommunications companies. "It's a novel and highly appreciated sponsorship vehicle that will keep you top of mind (and close at hand) throughout the show."

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Convention planner MaryBeth Powers, who runs Virginia-based Planning Powers, offers "H1N1 sponsorship ideas" on her website. "Sponsors can benefit from the worries of Swine Flu (H1N1)," she says. "Have your sponsors donate personal-size antibacterial gel bottles, wipes and/or a packet of tissues. Your meeting attendees will love them."

Then there's Vi-Jon Inc., a St. Louis-based company that makes Germ-X hand sanitizers. The company not only features extensive material about H1N1 on its website, but also sponsored a bike race this year, with Germ-X as the official hand sanitizer, and ran ads during broadcasts of St. Louis Cardinals baseball games featuring the product as the team's "preferred hand sanitizer."

"When it comes to fighting germs, you have to play hardball," the team's play-by-play announcer John Rooney said in the ads.

"That's why I use Germ-X, the instant hand sanitizer. I just apply Germ-X to my hands, rub it in for 15 seconds, then I'm ready to throw germs out at the plate."

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