Sports Direct has upped its stake in Findel to nearly 30% – close to the point at which it would have to table a formal bid.

Mike Ashley’s business has been at loggerheads with Findel after the home shopping group blocked an attempt by Sports Direct last November to have a director elected to the Findel board. 

The move by Sports Direct was seen an effort to block the sale of Findel’s replica football shirt business Kitbag, in which Ashley’s business was thought to be interested. Sports Direct also accused Findel of under-delivering for shareholders.

However Findel announced last month it had sold Kitbag to US-based sports merchandise business Fanatics for £11.55m.

In a regulatory filing today, Findel said Sports Direct has raised its stake to 29.79%. Sports Direct would be forced to table a formal bid if its stake reaches 30%. 

Sports Direct, which is still reeling from a media backlash over its alleged employment practices, first took an 18.9% stake in Findel in September but then cut it to 17.2% in December.

The sports retailer was forced to clarify last week that its profits will be at the lower end of expectations following comments by Ashley to the media. Some observers believe investments such as that in Findel may have diverted Sports Direct’s management’s attention from the core business.

Findel issued a profits warning in January, but last week revealed sales have picked up.