Sports Direct takes strides into Europe

Kasmira Jefford
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SPORTS DIRECT, the sports chain founded by Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, has added Austria and the Baltics to its fast-growing overseas empire after buying majority stakes in two retailers on the continent.

The company said yesterday it has agreed on a €40m (£26.4m) deal for a 51 per cent share in Austria’s EAG, while paying an undisclosed sum for a 60 per cent stake in Sportland International Group (SIG), the largest sports retailer in the Baltics.

Dave Forsey, chief executive, said "The strategic investments in Austria and the Baltic region represent a continuation of our previously stated European expansion plans.”

“Expected benefits from these investments include increased scale for our international business, growing international awareness of our group brands and additional expertise in specialist product categories such as winter sports,” he added.

Sports Direct announced in 2011 its ambitions to expand its international operations into all 17 countries that have adopted the Euro within five years, taking on the likes of French giant Decathlon.

It currently has stores in Belgium, Holland, France, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Portugal trading as Sports Direct, and joint ventures with other retailers such as in Heatons in Northern Ireland.

The deal for EAG includes €10.5m paid to the current shareholders and €30m towards the company’s debts.

The business has been owned by the Eybl family for more than 80 years and operates two sports chains.

Eybl, which sells specialist equipment, has 29 stores in Austria and one in Germany and Sports Experts, which targets the value segment, has 26 shops in Austria and two in Germany.

Meanwhile SIG operates 80 stores across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and is also the official wholesale distributor of Nike in the region.