Pentland kicks in pounds 9.5m for Mitre

Mitre, a name synonymous with every schoolboy's birthday dream, is returning home after three years in the wilderness. Maker of most of the footballs pounded around premier league grounds every Saturday, the company is being sold by its American owners to Pentland Group for $15.1m (pounds 9.5m), the British group that made a fortune over there selling Reebok training shoes.

The last three years have not been happy ones for the 178-year old Mitre, which leads the market in footballs in Britain and has a substantial chunk of the US one. Genesco, a big American footwear wholesaler and retailer, bought the business from Grampian Holdings, the Scottish conglomerate, in 1992 to cash in on the World Cup held across the Atlantic in 1994, but the firm did not know what to do with the alien business of football. Having made profits of pounds 1.7m in 1990 Mitre broke even, before a pounds 500,000 management charge to its parent, on sales of pounds 17.3m in the year to January.

Pentland thinks it can do better. "It has been on the market for nine months, which meant we could pick it up for quite a good price," Frank Farrant, managing director, said. "It's a very good brand internationally. Fairly small, but we believe with our network of distributors we have a good opportunity to develop the brand."

He said that Pentland had done it before with brands such as Speedo, a maker of swimming attire, which was in an uncertain position when it was acquired. Next year, Speedo will be sponsoring 43 of the national swimming teams competing in the Atlanta Olympics, including the United States, Germany and China.

Mitre has yet to achieve such dizzy heights, although sponsored wearers of the company's boots include Steve Bruce, the Manchester United captain, John Hartson of Arsenal and Jonathan Davies, who plays for Warrington rugby league side.

Mr Farrant is confident that Mitre will fit well with brands such as Reusch goalkeeping and skiing gloves and Pony replica football kit. "Mitre's major product offering is in footballs, but we believe we can do a lot more in footwear and clothing because we are a brand manager," he said.

The company already supplies most of the football league clubs in Britain and America. Korea, Japan and China are just three of the markets that could soon follow. Pentland is in talks with potential distributors for its current brands and Mitre is likely to be added to the list.

The acquisition price for Mitre Sports International, which excludes the US business, is $11.4m (pounds 7.2m). Subject to final audit, Pentland is paying a further $3.8m for the stocks and certain fixed assets of the US operation.