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Freespirit suitors are set to pounce

Retailers and private equity groups are eyeing boardsports chain Freespirit as owner Blacks Leisure weighs up its future.

Several boardsports brands and online operators, including Billabong and Extreme Group, are thought to be interested in the 35-store business. A handful of prospectuses have been requested after Blacks announced a review of Freespirit, which sells brands including Vans and Animal.

Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley, who holds a 29% stake in Blacks Leisure, threatened a board takeover last month if plans for a sale went ahead.

One boardsports retailer said: "Freespirit is one of the parts of Blacks with the most potential. But its price tag would probably be too high for some of the other boardsports operators. A buyer would have to take it out of the Blacks environment and give it its own operational structure, so it's a lot of work for a smaller business."

The sales director of another brand said: "Ashley has been wanting to get into boardsports for a while. This could simply be a tactic by Blacks to try and find out his true intentions. I think Ashley will end up with Freespirit."

Ashley was also rumoured to be eyeing 15-strong chain Nevis Sports, to fit with the Field & Trek business he bought last month.

Freespirit was unavailable for comment.

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