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The Deal: IMG Worldwide Asks Who's the Vainest of Them All

NEW YORK ( TheDeal) -- Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the vainest of them all?

Tough to say, especially when assessing moguls of the sort interested in IMG Worldwide Inc. But whoever meets the $2 billion floor bid in the auction for the sports, fashion and media business that is IMG gains instant entry into vanity's hall of fame.

Not that there's a lack of candidates. Even the short list is pretty long, starting with perennial tire kickers Ron Burkle, Larry Ellison and Patrick Soon-Shiong. According to Forbes Magazine, the net worths of these Californians are, respectively, $3.1 billion, $43 billion and $8 billion.

Add to this trio such international tycoons as Mukesh Ambani of India, with his $21.5 billion, and Eike Batista of Brazil, with his $10.6 billion. IMG was shrewd enough a while back to enter into joint ventures with both men, each in his native country. So they already know IMG, and if either one wants to own all of it, he needs only to write a check. That nearly half of IMG's revenue comes from overseas gives this foreign contingent an edge not universally appreciated.

And let's not forget those moguls who are also moneyed -- just not to a Forbes 400 degree -- but whose imperfect resumes have them seeking another trip to the plate. Former Hollywood high-flyers Peter Guber and Terry Semel dominate this category, either of whom could summon sufficient private equity backing to become the public face of IMG, a role Ted Forstmann luxuriated in until his death in 2011. (Press accounts have Semel, with backing from a sovereign wealth fund, making an obviously unsuccessful run at IMG in 2008.)

But what will the winning bidder actually win? A piece of sports history, to be sure, given that IMG was founded on that handshake forever cited by sports fans around the world between lawyer-turned-agent Mark McCormack and golf legend Arnold Palmer. By the time of McCormack's death in 2003, IMG's roster was no longer limited to pro athletes but diverse enough to encompass Mikhail Gorbachev, Pope John Paul II and Kate Moss.

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