Belfast Telegraph

Mike Ashley in new deal move over store chain

By Holly Williams

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley's sportswear group has sold its near-5% stake in Debenhams days after making the share swoop.

Sports Direct International has instead struck a complex financial arrangement giving it the option to take a 6.6% stake in Debenhams amid speculation he is lining up celebrity-sponsored sportswear ranges for the chain.

Sports Direct raised eyebrows on Monday when it emerged that the group had bought a 4.6% stake in Debenhams, worth around £46m, in the wake of the department store's recent profits warning after Christmas trading.

It said it would allow the companies to consider ways to work together. The group stressed on making its latest move that it still wants to "explore options" over how the two can work together".

It added: "Sports Direct reiterates its intention to be a supportive stakeholder and create value in the interests of both Sports Direct's and Debenhams' shareholders."

Mr Ashley, who founded Sports Direct and still owns 62% of the group, wants to introduce ranges endorsed by the likes of Sports Direct brand ambassadors double Olympic gold medal rower James Cracknell and tennis players John McEnroe and Pat Cash, according to the Financial Times.

He is also keen to bring his brands such as Dunlop, Slazenger, Everlast and Kangol to Debenhams. Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb said the decision to take out a so-called "put option" on Debenhams shares could be a way to boost hopes of a deal.

"Presumably he thinks this will give him more leverage in his negotiations with the beleaguered business," he said.

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