The sportswear empire of Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has snapped up almost 5% of shares in department store Debenhams – without the board of directors’ knowledge.
Sports Direct International said the stock market purchase, worth around £46m, would allow the companies to consider ways to work together.
Debenhams, which has issued a profits warning on New Year’s Eve following poor trading over Christmas, said it was open-minded about the offer of exploring operational opportunities in order to improve its performance.
The company, which has bought 56.8 million shares in Debenhams, has a history of buying strategic stakes in other retailers, most recently JJB Sports. It is the current owner of a near 12% holding in rival JD Sports Fashion.
As well as having 409 stores in the UK, Sports Direct has a portfolio of 28 internationally recognised sports, fashion and lifestyle brands including Dunlop, Slazenger, Everlast, Lonsdale and Karrimor.
The firm said: “Sports Direct wishes to explore options at an operational level to work together with Debenhams to create value in the interests of both Sports Direct’s and Debenhams’ shareholders.
“This acquisition of shares has taken place without the prior knowledge of the Debenhams board of directors, but Sports Direct has communicated to Debenhams’ board its desire to work together and its intention to be a supportive shareholder.”
Debenhams has 240 stores in 29 countries, including more than 150 UK stores, and the chain has a top five market share in womenswear and menswear and a top 10 share in the market for childrenswear.
A spokesman said: “Debenhams notes that Sports Direct intends to be a supportive shareholder and that it wishes to explore options at an operational level to work together. Debenhams is open-minded with regard to exploring operational opportunities to improve its performance.”