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DUESSELDORF -- Ailing sports marketing giant ISL Worldwide, which holds some of the TV rights to the next two soccer World Cup tournaments, has announced it is seeking an equity partner to keep it afloat.

According to a company statement, ISL's Zug-based parent company, ISMM, successfully filed a petition with the Cantonal Court in Zug to postpone formal bankruptcy proceedings for three months. Under Swiss law, if a company's debts exceed its assets, it must begin bankruptcy proceedings unless a postponement is granted.

Sports marketing analysts are expressing concern about ISL's chances of finding a white knight in a short space of time.

Already out of the picture is Munich-based Kirch Group, which, like ISL, owns some of the lucrative TV rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. Kirch Groups has already said it had no intentions of linking up with the Swiss company.

Another potential contender, Interpublic Group of Cos.-owned Ocatagon Worldwide, has also issued a statement "categorically denying any bid for ISL."

The emerging frontrunner, according to industry speculation, is multimedia giant Vivendi Universal, although no official confirmation has been made.

ISL has admitted that it has suffered from an over-aggressive expansion policy and that it intends to focus on soccer and athletics. The company already terminated its marketing agreement with U.S. motor racing organization Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) in February. It is now seeking to end its 10-year marketing deal with the ATP tour's Master Series, signed in 1999.

In addition, ISL is reassessing its commercial rights deals with Flamengo and Gremio soccer teams in Brazil.

By far the most treasured of ISL's deals is the sponsor rights for the World Cup's 2002 and 2006 soccer tournaments for Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Africa.

ISL was launched in the late 1980s by the former owner of adidas, the late Horst Dassler, in a 50-50 joint venture with Japan's Dentsu Inc. The Tokyo based agency eventually sold a 40% stake to Mr. Dassler's heirs.

The new owners, ISMM Group, also own CPG Copyright Promotion, London, a licensing and merchandising agency; Sri Sponsorship International, a London-based sports sponsorship research consultancy; and ISMM Interactive, Zug. -- Dagmar Mussey

Copyright April 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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