Will JD Sports rescue Debenhams?

JD Sports has emerged as a “serious contender” to rescue Debenhams, a move that would escalate its rivalry with Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct and House of Fraser.

JD Sports has emerged as a “serious contender” to rescue Debenhams, reports Oliver Gill in the Daily Telegraph. The move would “significantly escalate” its “long-running” rivalry with Mike Ashley, who controls Sports Direct and the department store House of Fraser. Ashley, whose previous £125m bid for Debenhams was rejected, has so far failed to find partners who can help him improve his offer. The interest from JD Sports will raise “fresh hopes” among Debenhams’ 12,000 staff, who have suffered “years of uncertainty”.

Not so fast, says Jim Armitage in the Evening Standard. While it is “anyone’s guess” who ends up with Debenhams, it is certain that “nobody will want all 124 stores”. It may be that nobody “will want any Debenhams-branded stores at all”, since it is hard to see how a “second-rate department store chain” will survive post-Covid-19 “when even your granny shops online”. One suspects that JD Sports’s interest is “being talked up to squeeze more cash out of Ashley”.

Still, even if it doesn’t end up buying Debenhams, it will at least be able to hold onto Footasylum, says Ashley Armstrong in The Times. In a “rare” defeat for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Competition Appeals Tribunal agreed with JD Sports that its £90m takeover of the rival footwear retailer didn’t represent a “substantial lessening of competition” as it “faced increasing competition” from Nike and Adidas’ websites. As a result, the deal will have to be referred back to the CMA and the planned divestment of Footasylum’s stores can be postponed for now.

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