Ashley in frame to buy out JJB

Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley

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THE vultures are beginning to circle over stricken Wigan retailer JJB Sports.

The Martland Mill-based firm was put up for sale last week after revealing it has debts and outstanding loans totalling £34m, with no guarantee of investors or that shareholders would see any return.

And within days of that news, the number of interested parties who could take over all or some of the company has risen to double figures.

It is also reported that JJB’s arch-nemesis, Sports Direct, is among those making further inquiries.

The latter has eaten up much of the sports retail market share in recent years, largely at JJB’s expense.

Its owner, Newcastle United boss Mike Ashley, famously had a frosty rivalry with JJB’s former owner Dave Whelan, who relinquished all ties in 2007 before setting up his new business DW Sports Fitness.

Another of the company’s competitors, JD Sports, is also reportedly weighing up its options.

Other possible buyers include Jon Moulton’s Better Capital and French retail giant Decathalon.

And Mr Whelan himself is another name linked with a move after he was said to be interested in acquiring a number of the beleaguered firm’s units to build up new retail outlets for DW.

Only last month his company, along with the Latics fan shop, moved into the former JJB Sports unit in the Grand Arcade which had been vacated because it was under-performing.

Speculation that JJB, which employs 4,000 people, could call in administrators is believed to be wide of the mark.

In its statement last week, it announced that it had approached advisors KPMG with a request to explore a sale. The move was prompted by the retailer’s failure to secure sufficient funds for its turn-around effort.

It tops off a terrible summer for the retailer which has lost 180 stores and seen Dick’s Sporting Goods write off its £20m investment before backers Harris Associates dumped five million shares.