The U.K.’s largest sports retailer said Wednesday that its stake is now nearly 5.6 million shares, or 11.5 percent, of the issued common stock of Iconix. The stake represents indirect economic interests through contracts for difference. The company disclosed on Jan. 5 in a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that its initial stake was 4.3 million shares, or 9 percent.
And while Sports Direct emphasized that the stake is “strategic,” a regulatory filing with the SEC Wednesday indicated that the company “does not have the power to vote or direct the vote, or power to dispose or direct the disposition, of any of the shares.”
Mike Ashley founded Sports Direct in 1982. Ashley was the sole owner until the company listed on the London Stock Exchange in March 2007. He also owns Newcastle United Football Club, and has a long-standing interest in Iconix’s Umbro brand. Umbro is a major resource for the British sports retailer, given its heritage in English soccer. Annual revenue is about $4 billion.
Sports Direct also disclosed a stake in Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc., at 2.1 million shares or 2.3 percent of the issued common stock, held through indirect economic interests.
The company said Wednesday: “The main rationale for these stakes is to allow Sports Direct to hopefully build a relationship and develop commercial partnerships with the relevant parties. They also help the company to build relationships with key suppliers and brands.”
The retailer offers a wide range of products and brands — internationally recognized sport, fashion and lifestyle — in its stores and online. The online site offers around 180,000 products in 1,000 categories, with more than 1,000 brands. The company’s U.K. store portfolio has about 455 stores, and it operates in 20 countries across Europe that includes Belgium, Austria, Slovenia and France.
The company’s strategy includes brand acquisitions. Company-owned brands include Dunlop, Slazenger, Lonsdale, LA Gear, Everlast Worldwide Inc. and fashion brand Kangol. It also has an investment stake in Debenhams.
It was unclear if the stakes in Iconix and Dick’s represents either an early foray or test into the U.S. market, or it there was another reason for the investment.
The company was said to have bought an 11 percent stake in House of Fraser in April 2014 to try to prevent Nanjing-based conglomerate Sanpower from its eventual takeover of the British retailer. Reportedly Ashley was interested in buying House of Fraser so it can be a distribution point for the retailer’s fashion brands.
And in 2007, Ashley nearly doubled his stake in Umbro to 29.9 percent from 15 percent, enough to temporarily block Nike’s $582 million all-cash deal to buy the brand, which required approval from shareholders owning 75 percent of the company. Ashley and Nike eventually reached an agreement that allowed the deal to go through. Nike sold the brand to Iconix in 2012 for $225 million.