Can JJB pull a win out of the bag in extra time?

The troubled sportswear chain could hear the final whistle next month, but its investors and creditors live in hope. James Thompson reports

At the end of September 2008, JJB Sports' auditor, Deloitte, issued a "going concern" warning on the sportswear retailer's half-year results, which were well into the red.

Since then, the Wigan-based chain has lurched from one crisis to another, despite investors and suppliers pumping more than £225m into the group and two insolvency procedures to ditch stores and reduce its rent bill.

Today, JJB is again battling to safeguard its future ahead of 29 September, when it will have to stump up millions of pounds in rent. The chain's management must submit a restructuing plan by 5 September to hopefully, finally, save JJB. The options, though, seem fairly gloomy.

Neil Saunders, the managing director at Conlumino, the research firm, adds: "I think it is in a pretty bleak position. An administration seems increasingly the only way out of the situation."

JJB recently warned it needed fresh funds before the end of the year after its net debt spiralled to £17.7m in July – that figure jumped £2.3m in barely a week – amid dire early summer trading. The chief executive, Keith Jones, quit this month to be replaced by former La Senza executive Beverley Williams as interim boss.

Fears are growing that September's rent day could force JJB into a radical restructuring, such as a pre-packaged administration. This would allow a new owner, or existing investor, to buy it quickly out of technical insolvency with fewer stores and lower debts. While JJB has lessened the scale of its quarterly rental payment by moving many stores to monthly payments, the 180-store retailer's options appear to be limited.

Of these options, the 42-year-old chain has already said it has no plans for a third company voluntary arrangement – an insolvency process – since 2009. It may also find that its shareholders and suppliers are not willing to invest again. Most of the funding has been provided by JJB's four biggest shareholders: Invesco, Harris Associates, Crystal Amber and the Gates Foundation of Microsoft's co-founder Bill.

Mr Saunders says: "There is an increasing view among investors in JJB that they could be throwing good money after bad."

However, Invesco and other third-parties not on the share register are still considering buying JJB's debt, which is held by Lloyds Banking Group. This could effectively give the debt holder control of JJB and certainly make it the top creditor in any ensuing restructuring process.

Among other shareholders, Dick's Sporting Goods said this month it had written off the £20m investment in JJB it made in April. Pennsylvania-based Dick's said it has "no further funding obligations to JJB".

This appeared to dampen the prospect that Dick's would next year exercise its right to buy a further £20m of convertible bonds – which would give it a 61 per cent controlling stake in JJB – under the terms of its original agreement. But, it is thought the US giant is still considering participating in a deal to put JJB on a firmer financial footing.

Another possible rescue mission could come from one of JJB's suppliers, such as Adidas, Nike or Puma. Alongside the Dick's investment in April, Adidas said it was providing JJB with a two-stage loan of up to £15m over the next two years to help fund its store refurbishment programme.

Peter Smedley, an analyst at Charles Stanley, says: "I think JJB still has several options to safeguard its future, largely because of the powerful and structural logic of why it exists. The likes of Nike and Adidas want a national sports performance retailer to sell their products and JJB is basically that vehicle. These suppliers are nervous about Sports Direct having a dominant position in the market."

The problem for JJB is, whichever way it turns, is that Mike Ashley's empire will give it a good kicking. Robert Clark, a retail research expert, said: "JJB did not see Sports Direct coming and it did not react until it was too late."

Overall, the sad fact is that has been largely downhill for JJB since it delivered pre-tax profit of £38.5m for 2006. This was ahead of the calamitous 18-month reign of Chris Ronnie, who started in the summer of 2007, although successive management teams have failed to turn JJB around. The retailer lost £101m last year and its shares, which traded at 210p in August 2007, have been stuck at less than 5p for most of this month.

Mr Clark says "a reduced phoenix will continue from the ashes" of what is currently JJB.

It's a sad prospect, but probably the best JJB can hope for.

Turbulent: Timeline

1971 Dave Whelan, a former Blackburn Rovers footballer, acquires a single store in Wigan to form JJB.

1994 The 120-store chain floats on the London Stock Exchange

1998 JJB acquires the business of Sports Division to become the largest sports retailer in the UK

June 2007 Chris Ronnie buys a 29 per cent stake in JJB through his investment vehicle for £190m

January 2009 Sir David Jones, who had been a non-executive since 2007, becomes executive chairman

February 2009 JJB's Qube and Original Shoe Company chains collapse into administration

March 2009 Mr Ronnie "dismissed" as chief executive after ill-fated 18 months. Mr Whelan acquires JJB's fitness club for £83.4m

April 2009 JJB completes its first company voluntary arrangement (CVA) enabling it to shut scores of shops and avoid collapse

October 2009 The company completes a £94m fund raising

March 2010 Keith Jones, the former Dixons Retail director, becomes chief executive of JJB

December 2010 Mike McTighe, the former head of Cable & Wireless's global operations division, becomes JJB's chairman. It unveils £31.5m cash call

March 2011 Second CVA insolvency completed and shareholders back a £65m fund raising

April 2012 Dick's Sporting Goods invests £20m. The US retailer agrees right to buy further £20m of convertible bonds in 2013 to give it a 61 per cent controlling stake in JJB. Adidas provides JJB with a two-stage loan of up to £15m over the next two years to help refurbish stores

July 2012 JJB announces that McTighe is to step down and Bob Corliss will replace him from Saturday. Warns of "deterioration in trading" after disappointing Euro 2012 kit sales. Jones quits as chief executive and Beverley Williams is later hired as interim boss.

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