Banc One Corp. may be the exclusive bank for the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Diamondbacks, but its Columbus, Ohio, rival Huntington Bancshares now has Chill Checking.

For its entree into the world of sports team sponsorships, Huntington is offering a checking account associated with the East Coast Hockey League's Columbus Chill, a team that is likely to leave town in two years.

Huntington would not disclose how much it paid for the one-year sponsorship.

"We've done a lot of sports advertising, but this is the first time we've ever partnered with an athletic team," said bank spokeswoman Hillary Jeffers.

Ms. Jeffers said Huntington hopes to capitalize on the growing popularity of professional hockey. While the minor league Chill has been a fixture in Columbus since 1991, it is likely to leave town with the arrival of the city's National Hockey League expansion franchise, the Blue Jackets. That team is expected to begin play in 2000.

No banking company is affiliated with the Blue Jackets, but Huntington officials said they would be interested in some sort of sponsorship.

Robert Balthaser, vice president for Huntington's central Ohio marketing, said he hopes to attract 250 to 500 accounts with Chill Checking.

The company made a "small investment" in the promotion, he said, which would pay for itself if it attracts at least 200 new accounts.

Though the Chill's days are numbered, he said he believes that new customers can be retained. The team attracts about 5,000 fans per game, he said.

Customers who open Chill Checking accounts-with a minimum deposit of $50-get Chill regulation-sized hockey sticks autographed by all the team members, plus a checkbook cover and personal checks with the Chill logo.

The $26 billion-asset Huntington will also sponsor prize giveaways at Chill games and focus advertising and promotions around the hockey team.

Huntington is just the latest banking company to affiliate itself with a sports team. Banc One, which paid $66 million to put its name on the stadium of major league baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks expansion franchise, has made sports marketing an integral part of its advertising strategy. Another Ohio banking company, Star Banc Corp., Cincinnati, is the exclusive bank of the Reds major league baseball team.

In Chicago, all the major league sports teams have affiliations with local banking companies. St. Paul Bancorp. offers checking accounts associated with the Cubs and White Sox baseball teams, the Bulls of the National Basketball Association, and the Bears of the National Football League.

TCF Financial Corp. offers checking accounts that feature the National Hockey League's Blackhawks.

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