Jun 24, 2021
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​Bullish Sports Direct targets major European expansion

Jun 24, 2021

Floodgates for the Sports Direct brand are about to open with the Frasers Group-owned retailer heading for a “huge push” into Europe.

Sports Direct's new-look London, Oxford Street, flagship store - Sports Direct

The brand aims to open flagship stores in “all” capital cities in Europe as part of a five-year plan to elevate its status on the international stage.

Key will be increasing its appeal to its main partner brands such as Nike, Adidas and Under Armour while also rivalling its successful peer JD Sports Fashion which has bigger operations overseas.

Although Sports Direct has stores in Belgium, Austria, Portugal, Ireland and the Baltic states, it lacks flagship stores in key continental cities. For example, JD Sports has more stores in Berlin and Paris alone than Sports Direct has in the whole of Germany and France.

Michael Murray, head of elevation for Frasers Group, told the Financial Times the group would consider both acquisitions and incremental opportunities to build its European presence.

“We have a strong and compelling five-year plan to become the partner of choice for brands”, he said. “We’ve spent three years testing, learning and building confidence with our partners”.

Sports Direct also told the FT that brands in the past haven’t been quick enough to reward its efforts to take stores upmarket by giving it better access to top-tier products. 

But Murray said the situation had improved markedly in recent months, pointing to Sports Direct launching a £6 million summer football TV ad campaign to coincide with the ongoing European Championships.

The European expansion announcement comes on the back of a “trailblazing” £10 million upgrade of its 50,000 square foot London flagship store on London’s Oxford Street that reopens this week. Meanwhile, the brand also announced two further flagship stores will also open in Birmingham and Manchester later this year with a further earmarked for Sheffield.

Murray also told Property Week the London store reopening marked a “pivotal moment in an era of massive change” for the brand, rolling out to other flagship stores across the UK.

“The beauty with Sports Direct is that we are in a very fortunate and agile position. “We’re looking at lots and lots of stores now. We’ve proven the concept works and we have confidence in our concept”.

Although physical retail has been hit hard by pandemic lockdowns, Murray said that for the group, “there’s never been any better opportunity to open new stores. 

“Landlords want to work with us and we’ve never been in a better place with our brands. It’s now going to be about how many [stores] can we physically do a year? That’s the big question”.

He added: “[UK] rents are coming into alignment with what people can afford. Landlords are starting to work with tenants on a turnover basis, and in the long term sharing the upside, sharing the downside and also contributing towards fit-outs and matching out investments. 

“So there’s been no better time to roll this plan out. If we did it five to six years ago, we would have paid the highest rents in the marketplace”.

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