Whelan bid for rival gym chain

Dave Whelan
Dave Whelan

Dave Whelan appears to be empire-building again!

Only a few months short of his 80th birthday and the millionaire owner of Wigan Athletic is said to be in talks to take over Fitness First.

It would add what was once Britain’s biggest gym operator to his burgeoning DW Sports Fitness chain.

Sky News last night reported that the man who built JJB Sports into what was once the nation’s largest sport retail chain has entered a month-long exclusivity period to secure a £70m takeover of the rival business. It is understood that if the deal goes through he would keep hold of around three quarters of Fitness First’s 70 sites.

Fitness First used to have a gym at Robin Park but the nearest now is in Cannock, Staffordshire, with most in the South.

Should everything go to plan the new combined business may be considered for flotation on the stock market within 18 months.

Mr Whelan has several weeks within which to secure a deal, and his intention to press ahead with the acquisition of a business dependent upon the buoyancy of consumer spending will be closely watched given forecasts of a post-referendum recession.

Banking sources told Sky News Mr Whelan was keen to acquire the operations of Fitness First to complement DW’s geographic footprint.

Mr Whelan set up DW after JJB, which he by then no longer owned, fell into terminal decline, partly as a way of rescuing some its outlets, namely those stores with gyms attached.

He was today unavailable for comment.