|Traded as||LSE: SPD|
|Headquarters||Shirebrook, Derbyshire, United Kingdom|
|Key people||Keith Hellawell (Chairman)
Mike Ashley (Founder and Deputy Executive Chairman)
Dave Forsey (CEO)
|Revenue||£1,835.8 million (2012)|
|Operating income||£158.8 million (2012)|
|Profit||£105.6 million (2012)|
Sports Direct International plc is a British retailing group. Founded in 1982 by former county squash coach Mike Ashley, the company is now the UK's largest sporting retailer through a number of retail subsidiaries and sports equipment brands. Although now a publicly traded company on the London Stock Exchange, Ashley continues to hold around 64% of Sports Direct as of February 2013. The company is also a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.
The company was founded by Mike Ashley in 1982 as a single store in Maidenhead trading under the name of Mike Ashley Sports. During the 1980s Mike Ashley began opening Sport and Ski shops in and around London: by 1990, there were three registered and recorded outlets. The chain expanded quickly funded by private money and profit from the stores, and by the late 1990s Ashley had rebranded the chain Sports Soccer and opened over 100 stores across the United Kingdom. However, as a sole trader and not having to file accounts at Companies House, little was known about him even by rival retailers. Although sole-trader status preserved his privacy, Ashley was missing out on the limited-liability advantage offered by company status, and in 1999 incorporated the business. In 2002 he went on to buy Lillywhites, the prestigious sports shop in Piccadilly Circus.
In February 2004 the company acquired Dunlop Slazenger for £40M, which included the Dunlop, Slazenger and Carlton brands. This was closely followed by the acquisitions of outdoor gear manufacturer Karrimor, Kangol for a reported £10M, boxing brand Lonsdale and tennis brand Donnay. Most of these brands were bought from distressed sellers. After looking at a takeover, Sports Direct took a £9 million stake and signed a lucrative long-term deal in August 2005 with troubled brand Umbro, which has subsequently been acquired by Nike.
The brands themselves are an increasingly important part of the business, and Sports Direct made £10m from selling the intellectual-property rights to the Slazenger Golf brand to archrival JJB in 2005.
In May 2007 it was also revealed that Ashley had held talks with John Hargreaves, founder of Matalan on both taking a 25% stake in the troubled retail business and installing mezzanine floors in larger Matalan stores, on which SportsDirect.com outlets could be operated.
In late November 2006, a number of business newspapers reported that Ashley was looking at an IPO of Sports World International. He hired Merrill Lynch, who valued the group at up to £2.5bn ahead of a possible flotation on the London Stock Exchange. The group debuted on the LSE on 27 February 2007.
In July 2008 it was disclosed that Sports Direct also held a 12.3% holding in the John David Group, parent of JD Sports. Sports Direct has also held 5% of Amer Sports, the world's largest sporting goods manufacturer, since January 2008. "[Ashley] likes to park his tanks on peoples' lawns," said a banker. 
In February 2013 after fashion retailler Republic went into administration, Sports Direct bought 116 Republic stores, the brand name and the companies head office from the administrator for an undisclosed sum.
The group has over 470 UK stores including the chains SportsDirect.com (Sports World prior to 2008), Lillywhites, Field & Trek and Republic. The group employs around 11,000 people in the UK and at stores in Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Portugal. Sports Direct-branded stores exist under a franchising agreement in South Africa and the Middle East. In 2006 it overtook JJB Sports as the UK's largest sportswear retailer. It was announced on 1 October 2012 that rival retailer Sports Direct had purchased the 'JJB' brand name, website and 20 stores, saving around 550 jobs.
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