Struggling retailer JJB is expected to be snapped up by rival Sports Direct International in a deal that would see at least half of its stores closed and thousands of jobs put at risk, according to a recent report.
Sports World parent Sports Direct - founded by billionaire Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley - is believed to be close to arranging to buy the most profitable stores from JJB, which has 10 stores in Northern Ireland, under a controversial 'pre-pack' administration.
The deal - which could be announced as soon as today - would see more than half of JJB's 180 stores closed, according to The Sunday Times.
But it is believed the Office of Fair Trading would launch an investigation into any attempt by Sports Direct to buy JJB.
Wigan-based JJB, which employs 4,000 staff, put itself up for sale at the end of August, after failing to secure the funds needed to overhaul its stores.
It confirmed earlier this month it was holding talks after receiving offers from "a number" of potential suitors as it seeks to secure the future of the firm.
It is now understood JJB will not be able to stave off administration, but is working towards a pre-pack arrangement that will allow it to be placed into administration and immediately sold.
This would allow Sports Direct to jettison loss-making stores but avoid the impact of a prolonged administration, which can cause irreparable damage to brands.
Sports Direct was not immediately available for comment.
Other companies interested in buying JJB are thought to include private investment firm OpCapita and French sporting goods retailer Decathlon.
Private equity firm Better Capital, founded by venture capitalist Jon Moulton, was said to be a frontrunner, but reports suggest the group failed to submit a bid by the deadline.
JJB founder Dave Whelan also reportedly said he would not make an offer for the retailer but would instead look to pick up individual stores if JJB was bought or fell into administration.
The total number of JJB stores, over half of which are at risk of closure