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It's ASCO On Ice!

While obsessively checking Twitter on my BlackBerry over the weekend I caught a tweet from one of the people I follow, Todd Ringler, a top health care PR guy at Edelman. He said he was scratching his head after spotting ASCO's logo rinkside at the U.S. Figure Skating Association Championships on NBC. ASCO, by the way, is the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the premiere cancer research organization.

We're used to major corporations sponsoring big sporting events, but a non-profit like ASCO?

Huh?

I hadn't been watching the competition, but my DVR was recording it. I quickly turned on the TV and scanned to the first skater on the ice.

American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) sponsorship as seen during a practice session for the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Source: youtube.com
American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) sponsorship as seen during a practice session for the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

And sure enough, there was the ASCO logo alongside Smucker's , State Farm and AT&T .

It got big time TV exposure every time a skater whirred past the rink board where the logo was repeatedly placed.

I previously wasn't aware of this, but this morning an ASCO spokesperson told me the organization recently signed on to be the lead sponsor of USFSA's "Skate America."But it did it under its patient information Web site. So, it was the "Cancer.net Skate America." Not sure about the sound of that, but okay. AT&T had been the sponsor of that event, but moved over to the championships instead.

Alright, so how in the world did ASCO and the USFSA hook up? ASCO's Kristin Ludwig said Mike Burg, who runs the marketing firm "Edge Health," was the matchmaker for this odd couple. Ludwig said Burg is a two-time cancer survivor and was motivated to get more word out about the disease. His doctor referred him to cancer.net and he apparently took it upon himself to propose that ASCO look at new ways to promote the site. Enter "Skate America." Ludwig said the USFSA thought it was a good fit because so many prominent skaters have battled cancer--Scott Hamilton, Dorothy Hamill and Peggy Fleming, just to name a few.

Ludwig wouldn't tell me how much ASCO paid for the sponsorship but said, "It was something we could cover with our current marketing budget." Whatever the cost, it did get some bang for the buck. After "Skate America" Ludwig claimed cancer.net saw a five-fold increase in site visits. The ASCO logo at the USFSA Championships over the past couple of weeks was a surprise "added value," Ludwig said. But she acknowledged that most viewers were probably puzzled by what in the heck is ASCO. It's a very well-known acronym in biopharma investment and oncology circles, but not so much among the general public.

For now, the ASCO-USFSA partnership is a one-off deal. Ludwig said the organization will do a post-mortem to figure out if it wants to sign on for another year.

Do you think ASCO should lace up its skates again? Vote in the poll.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman