Sports Soccer to kick off out-of-town offensive

Sports Soccer, which has been renamed Sports World, plans to treble its out-of-town presence.

The initiative may enable it to outrun JD Group to become the number two player in the market.

Sports World property director Graham Seaton, drafted in earlier this year from Matalan to lead the expansion offensive, said: 'There's a vast area to do.

If you draw a line between the Wash and Bristol, there's only one out-of-town unit. We've got room to triple them.'

Of the 150-strong chain, all but 40 are in towns or malls.

There has been speculation that Mike Ashley, the privacy-obsessed owner of the value sportswear chain, is on the acquisition trail.

The retailer has recently bought Lillywhites and Karrimor, and both All:sports and JD Sports have been spoken of speculatively as targets. However, Seaton insists there are plenty of sites available, so an acquisition is unlikely.

Until recently, the true scale of Sports World was unknown, because Ashley only incorporated the company in 1999.

Accounts filed in 2002 showed a pre-tax profit of£46.1 million on sales of£397.6 million. Sales for 2003 are estimated to be more than£450 million.

Retail Knowledge Bank director Robert Clark said the sports business is probably ranked equal second with JD Group in the£4 billion sports market, while JJB Sports is number one.

'Whatever you think of the stores or the product, they have clearly struck a chord.

'Both JJB and JD have had problems in a competitive market, but Sports Soccer is clearly the most competitive of the lot,' he said.