Sports Direct, the discount sports giant helmed by Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, on Wednesday took the unusual step of attacking a report in the Guardian on its new London headquarters.
The retailer says in a statement that it “would like to correct inaccurate information that was published on The Guardian website by making the following comments.”
Sports Direct appears to be referring to a report published Tuesday on the company’s £108 million deal for Academy House on Oxford Street, which will become the flagship store for the group’s upmarket Flannels chain and house Sports Direct’s corporate offices in the higher floors.
But a paragraph in the Guardian report saying the building is “on the tattier eastern side of Oxford Street” appears to have angered Sports Direct.
Sports Direct says in Wednesday’s statement that:
This property is a perfect strategic fit… This is one of the hottest freehold sites in London, superbly located in the mid-section of Oxford Street to the east of Oxford Circus. It is just a short walk from the forthcoming new Crossrail link at Tottenham Court Road, which will bring an estimated 50,000 extra people a day to the station in 2018 and it will bring 1.5million people to within 45 minutes by train.
Sports Direct also seems annoyed that the Guardian has raised the role of Michael Murray, the boyfriend of Ashley’s eldest daughter Anna, in the deal. 26-year-old Murray was appointed to last year to run the former FTSE 100 company’s £250 million property business, despite little prior experience. Last summer he was working as a nightclub promoter and festival organiser.
In its statement on Wednesday, Sports Direct says: “The deal vindicates the Group’s faith in Michael Murray, who has successfully played a pivotal role executing the property strategy.”
The statement is highly unusual in that it does not appear to dispute any of the facts reported by the Guardian, simply their interpretation.
Here’s a shot of the new building, as per Google Street view, on the left. As you can see, it is opposite Sports Direct’s flagship London store.
While it may look tatty now, it will look very different once redevelopment is complete. The new location is neighboured by Marks & Spencer on its right and, across the road to its left, a Flight Centre travel agent. Tatty? It’s up for debate.
Sports Direct has an axe to grind with the Guardian, which first piled pressure on the retailer over its extensive use of zero hour contracts in 2013. More recently the paper exposed poor working conditions at the retailer’s warehouses, something which led to calls by MPs for owner Ashley appear before Parliament. Ashley has repeatedly refused to appear before Parliament to answer questions.
Aside from political pressure, Sports Direct is also facing business problems. The company was relegated from the FTSE 100 last month and, in a rare interview with the Times in March, Sports Direct founder and majority shareholder Ashley said: “We are in trouble, we are not trading very well. We can’t make the same profit we made last year.” A formal profit warning followed.
Sports Direct shares have fallen over 40% in the last six months.