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Mike Ashley buys long-time rival’s business out of administration

Mike Ashley

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PA Media

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Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group owns Sports Direct among other brands

Billionaire businessman Mike Ashley has bought a number of gyms and sports shops from his rival and long-time critic Dave Whelan after they fell into administration.

Mr Ashley’s Frasers Group said it would buy “certain” assets from DW Sports Fitness for £37m, but would not be using the firm’s brand name.

Frasers said “a number of jobs” would be saved but did not specify how many.

DW went bust earlier this month, putting 1,700 employees at risk.

Like others, its income evaporated after it was forced to close its 73 gyms and 75 retail stores for several months during the coronavirus lockdown.

The deal is reported to be a strategic win for Frasers, which owns a host of other brands including Lillywhites, Evans Cycles and House of Fraser.

In a statement it said DW’s shops and gyms would “compliment (sic)” its own gym and fitness club portfolio, and would now be managed under Frasers’ Everlast brand.

Mr Ashley, who has been buying up struggling High Street brands over the last five years, has had a feud with DW Sports’ owner, Mr Whelan, dating back two decades.

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Getty Images

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Dave Whelan has been in a feud with Mike Ashley dating back two decades

In 2000, Mr Whelan was famously reported to have told his younger rival from the south: “There is a club in the north, son, and you’re not part of it.”

Mr Ashley later reported Mr Whelan’s JJB Sports business to the Office of Fair Trading, alleging it was involved in a price-fixing scheme over football shirts.

The OFT issued multi-million pound fines to those involved, including JJB.

Mr Whelan, 83, a former owner of Wigan Athletic football club, created DW Sports in 2009 when he bought 50 JJB Sports fitness clubs and the adjoining shops out of administration.

During the year ending 31 March 2019, DW had gross assets of almost £195m but made a loss of just over £20m.

Frasers itself has been struggling during the pandemic, calling its most recent financial year the “most challenging” in its history.

In the year to 26 April, its sales climbed slightly, but profits dived by 20% to £143.5m due to lockdown store closures.

Last week, it said that more of its House of Fraser department stores were “anticipated” to close, likely resulting in further job cuts.

It has already shut 10 of the 59 stores it bought out of administration in 2018.

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