French retailer Decathlon is understood to be eyeing embattled sports specialist JJB Sports. Retail Week takes a closer look at Decathlon and the impact buying JJB would have on the UK sports market.

What is Decathlon?

The retailer is one of the largest sporting goods retailers in the world and owned by French group Oxylane. The first store was opened in Lille in 1976. It now has over 500 shops in 20 countries and generated global sales of $9bn (£5.9bn) in its most recent financial year.

What presence does Decathlon have in the UK?

The retailer has 12 UK stores. It launched here in 1999 with grand plans to expand but has struggled to find a format that works for it in the market. The sportswear giant operates from big sheds across Europe but, after much trial and error, it has found that a slightly smaller storefootprint works in the UK. It now plans to push ahead with an aggressive expansion programme and is eyeing 100 stores in this country, including another 50 by 2016.

Why would Decathlon be interested in JJB?

The French retailer clearly views the UK as a big growth market and buying JJB Sports would instantaneously give it scale. It is unclear at this stage whether it would keep the JJB name or rebrand as Decathlon.

JJB’s store portfolio, largley comprising out-of-town premises, could be a good fit with Decathlon’s ambitions. In fact, one of Decathlon’s most recent store openings was a former JJB store in Edinburgh.

How would an acquisition of JJB by Decathlon affect the UK market?

If Decathlon were to take on the bulk of JJB’s stores it would give UK market leader Sports Direct some real competition. Sports Direct boss Dave Forsey aims to emulate Decathlon’s success internationally and told Retail Week last year that he thinks the pair will be fighting it out for global dominance over the next 10 years.

Decathlon, which only sells own brands, is one of the few retailers which could give Sports Direct a run for its money on price.