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Two Strikes for MVP.com?

Privately-held sporting goods e-tailer MVP.com may have some All Star athletic talent on its team, but that's not the kind of help it seems to need at this point. The company, backed by sports greats John Elway, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, missed a $5 million payment -- due Oct. 1 -- to backer CBS Sportsline.com, and is now turning to Sportsline and other partners for additional funding.

The payment is part of a strategic e-commerce and marketing agreement with Sportsline that has MVP paying the company $120 million over a 10-year period. Sportsline also sold MVP three of its e-commerce subsidiaries in exchange for additional MVP.com equity, giving Sportsline 10 percent of the company's equity.

MVP said the missed payment does not reflect a downturn in its business, which it says is brisk. Sportsline shareholders appear to be getting nervous, however, and Sportsline President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Levy addressed the issue during the company's earnings conference call Thursday. He said Sportsline would write down its investment in MVP, and a few other Internet companies it has invested in, and record a non-cash charge of $114.3 million. He also said Sportsline is seeking to restructure its agreement with MVP. Failing that, he indicated that Sportsline would seek a new e-commerce partner.

"The market hasn't been very receptive to startup e-tailing businesses," Levy said. "In addition, startups, as well as more mature dot-coms in almost every sector, have been adversely affected by the recent market downturn which has made raising equity capital either publicly or privately extremely difficult. Equity valuations of startups have also been significantly affected by market conditions, and the significant devaluation of established and newly public companies is making it difficult if not impossible for private companies to raise capital at previously expected valuations. While MVP was well capitalized in early 2000, it was everyone's understanding that MVP would need to raise additional capital sometime during 2000.

"At the present time, MVP is seeking to raise additional capital and is negotiating with Sportsline and its other financial and strategic partners for funding. Based on MVP.com's current financial condition, and the equity valuations being discussed during this process, we've determined that our original $100 million investment should be written down."

On the other hand, Levy noted that the agreement with MVP has benefited Sportsline and its shareholders.

"To date, our relationship with MVP has been highly accretive to Sportsline's shareholders," he said. "So far this year, MVP has made $13 million in cash payments to Sportsline. By contrast, had we continued to operate our e-commerce business independently, we estimate we would have lost in the neighborhood of $10 to $15 million this year."

Levy said Sportsline is seeking to restructure payment terms for the remainder of the 10-year period contingent on MVP obtaining additional financing.

"Even if we assume the worst case scenario and say that MVP is unable to secure financing and our deal with them does not work out, we're confident that over time we'll be able to put another deal in place."