Newcastle supremo Ashley among bidders for embattled leisure firm
Four interested buyers are expected to table final bids for struggling outdoor clothing retailer Blacks Leisure within the next two days.
The potential buyers - who are understood to include Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley's Sports Direct - are reportedly planning to bid for the majority of the business, which includes Millets and brands such as Peter Storm and Eurohike.
The outdoor clothing group, which owns 98 Blacks outlets and 208 Millets stores - including four in Northern Ireland - is expected to be sold under a pre-pack administration deal after it said it did not expect an offer for the group's shares, only for its trade, assets and brands.
The loss-making group, which employs 3,600 staff in outlets and at its head office and distribution centre in Northamptonshire, put itself up for sale after failing to secure extra funding to turn around the business.
Professional services firm KPMG is running the sale of Blacks Leisure and is also expected to oversee the administration.
A sale to a trade player - such as Sports Direct - would help save many of the 3,500 jobs, but a pre-pack deal would see most of its £36m of debt wiped out and its worst-performing stores closed.
A pre-pack administration is a procedure which sees a firm being sold immediately after it enters administration - in order to gain the best possible sale price.
The process is viewed as controversial because creditors do not have the opportunity to vote against the proposed asset sale.