Founded in 1982,Sports Direct is the UK's largest retailer of sporting goods, offering a variety of sports, fitness, fashion and lifestyle brands. The company operated 700 sports stores around the UK and Europe as well as 50 e-commerce websites and it owns other retailers including House of Fraser, Flannels, USC and Lillywhites.
Headed by CEO Mike Ashley who has been dubbed the "Hoover of the high street" for his prolific deal making, the group has been rapidly expanded through acquisition of late. In 2018 it acquired House of Fraser out of administration and went on to buy Evans Cycles and Sofa.com.
Ashley had a tilt at both HMV and Patisserie Valerie but neither deal came off and is (in March 2019) said to be interested in picking up LK Bennett, which is in administration. A bid for home shopping group Findel has also been rejected as the board says it undervalues the group.
However it is Debenhams that remains Ashley's obsession for now. Already a near 30% shareholder, Ashley has made several manoeuvres to try to gain control of the struggling chain. He has used his voting power to successful oust former chairman Sir Ian Cheshire and has CEO Sergio Bucher removed from the board (though for now he remains in post).
He has made several offers of financial lifelines, including a £100m offer to buy its Danish arm Magasin to Nord and an interest-free loan of £150m on the proviso he is installed as CEO and the board is cleared, except for its CFO. Debenhams remains resistant to the offer.
Ashley has also recently scotched rumours of interest in Sir Philip Green's Arcadia group, saying he would not want to take on it pensions liability.
He also holds a significant stake in premium high street chain French Connection.