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The fate of Lang Communications' Sassy hangs in the balance, while troubled teen title Dirt has been rescued by an unusual arrangement with sports cable network ESPN2.

Chairman-CEO Dale Lang said he's negotiating for a $5 million to $6 million cash infusion for Sassy from a potential new partner, the Marquard Group, a Munich-based publisher of teen magazines.

Mr. Lang said he needs the cash to keep the 6-year-old lifestyle magazine for teen-age girls in his fold and put it up against rivals YM and Seventeen and Time Inc. Ventures' new Mouth2Mouth at checkout counters.

"I'm one of the last independents, and I'm competing against the giants," Mr. Lang said. "We have a title with a good niche, but we need the resources to take it to the checkout counters."

Already, Mr. Lang may have saved brother magazine Dirt, a male teen title with fluctuating frequency that published two issues last year. The deal involves a marketing partnership with ESPN2, a sports cable network owned by ESPN, to reformulate the publication.

In July, the magazine will be relaunched in a one-time test as ESPN2Dirt, an alternative sports magazine targeting 16-to-24-year-old males.

The new version will have a rate base of 150,000 and also carry listings guides for ESPN2. In return, the cable channel will run free direct-response commercials for the magazine.

Ad rates for ESPN2Dirt will be $6,420 for a b&w page and $9,000 for a color page.

Richard Glover, senior VP of ESPN Enterprises, called the arrangement a "test," adding, "The hope is that [the publication] will become a monthly magazine."

At Sassy, the 788,829 circulation monthly missed its 800,000 rate base in the six-month reporting period ended Dec. 31, 1993.

That shortfall was partly due to the collapse of Sassy's single-copy sales, which dropped 17% to 108,567 compared with the same period in 1992, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Mr. Lang estimates the magazine has hemorrhaged $30 million to $40 million under three owners since its 1988 launch.

"At least $10 million of that is mine," said Mr. Lang, who bought the title in 1989 from two banks that had taken it over from the failed Matilda Publications.

Mr. Lang said he was optimistic about an agreement with Marquard, though he has yet to hammer out a deal.

"If they do something, I'm in business. If not, I'll have to find someone else" or put the edgy magazine on the block, he said.

The latest financial maneuvers aren't expected to affect Lang's arrangement with the Sandler Group, the investor that last year bought out Time Inc.'s 50% stake in Working Woman and Working Mother.

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