Mark McCormack poised to win Uefa contract in penalty shoot-out

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Mark McCormack, the legendary sports agent, is set to strike one of the biggest coups of his career – securing the €1bn (£620m) contract to market the Uefa Champions League.

The European football body is due to award a deal to sell the rights to the competition for three seasons – starting in July 2003 – next month.

The shortlist has been narrowed to just two – Mr McCormack's IMG organisation and the existing incumbent, the Swiss/German marketing group Team Football. Both have guaranteed an income to Uefa of at least €700m over the three years, with much more expected.

Team Football has held the contract since the early 1990s but its re-appointment would be seen as controversial, as the organisation is believed to have made more than €100m in commissions from Uefa over the last decade.

Team Football has brought in such well-known sponsors as Sony PlayStation, Ford and Mastercard, but some in the football industry are concerned that not enough has been done to promote the competition. In addition, there are worries about the large number of games played in the Champions League and the declining TV audiences for the championship.

The two firms made presentations last week to Uefa's secretary-general, Gerhard Aigner, and president, Lennart Johansson, at a meeting of the sports body's ruling council in Nyon, Switzerland.

Sources close to Uefa said that the presentation from IMG and its TV production subsidiary, Transworld International, suggested ideas about how the competition could be given fresh impetus.

Mr McCormack is famous for having revolutionised the finances of tennis and golf, but the septuagenarian American has made little impact in football, despite owning French club Strasbourg.

The current TV deals run out in 2003. In the UK, the Champions League is carried on ITV with some matches on the pay-TV platform ITV Digital. Some of the pay-TV games have commanded poor audiences, with fewer watching at home than attended at the stadiums. The Uefa contract is the largest marketing deal in football.

It is offered at a time when the industry is flummoxed by the collapse of ISL/ISMM, the Lucerne-based marketing group which represented the Olympics and Fifa. ISL/ISMM, second only to IMG, ran into trouble after guaranteeing the income on a top tennis event.

The collapse of ISL/ISMM, as well as the decision by insurer Axa not to underwrite next year's World Cup in Japan and South Korea, has left Fifa with a financial headache. Uefa has expressed concerns about Fifa's finances and Mr Johansson is calling for a full audit of Fifa's accounts.

"The idea is we should use a full day to discuss finances," said Mr Johansson. "There are so many sums, so many balls in the air, so many amounts being mentioned."