MasterCard International, a sponsor of the National Hockey League, gave fans a new toy - smart cards - at an exposition tied to last weekend's All- Star game.

The promotion took place during the four-day Pinnacle/NHL FANtasy - considered hockey fans' Star Trek convention. The event was held in San Jose, Calif., and ended Sunday.

MasterCard gave away 25,000 "cool card" chip cards, enabling fans to win prizes from participating sponsors.

Peter Cerra, director of chip card products at MasterCard, called the promotion a "nice way to introduce the technology to future cardholders."

Issuers have been seeking out sports fans to promote chip card acceptance. Recently, the stadium of the National Football League's Carolina Panthers was wired by NationsBank Corp. to accept smart cards. And First Union Corp. installed a chip card system in the stadium of the Panthers' expansion partners, Florida's Jacksonville Jaguars.

Both systems, which let consumers load cash value on the cards to buy food and souvenirs, are said to be popular.

Unlike those more permanent projects, MasterCard's promotion was a temporary attraction that involved no electronic cash.

Mr. Cerra said the program let the thousands of fans who attended the event "see chip technology at work."

The demonstration was designed to display smart cards' multiple application potential. Stored-value-only cards, such as Visa Cash and Mondex, have been getting most of the attention from the industry. "This application is something retailers might want to use as a marketing tool," Mr. Cerra said.

Each of the roughly 30 sponsors at the event, including brand names such as Nestle, ITT Sheraton, and Gatorade, had a Hypercom Inc. terminal at its booth. When the "cool card," made by Gemplus, was inserted in the terminal, the fan was registered, and prizes were randomly encoded onto some cards.

At the end of the affair, fans inserted their cards into a terminal at the MasterCard booth to receive their prizes, which ranged from a hockey jersey to a trip for two to the Stanley Cup tournament.

The cards came with instructions on how to use them.

David Weisman, senior analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., called the promotion a "great idea. It's the technology MasterCard's been advertising and consumers heard about at the Olympics," he said. Now people can "get used to seeing a card with a chip."

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