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Who Is Mike Ashley? What Was His Role at Sports Direct?

Mike Ashley is a British billionaire and retail entrepreneur in the sporting goods market. He founded Sports Direct, later the Frasers Group PLC, and served as the company’s chief operating officer until 2022.

As of 2022, his net worth is estimated to be around $5.3 billion.

Key Takeaways

  • Michael Ashley is the founder of the United Kingdom’s largest sporting goods retailer Sports Direct.
  • He also served as COO of Frasers Group PLC until 2022.
  • Ashley earned $1.8 billion from the 2007 Initial Public Offering of Sports Direct.
  • He bought the U.K. soccer club Newcastle United in 2007.

Early Life and Education

Mike Ashley was born on Sept. 9, 1964, in Burnham, Buckinghamshire, England. After graduating from school in Burnham at the age of 16, Ashley played squash at the local county level. An injury ended his tenure as a player and he entered the fitness industry as a squash coach before opening his first sports shop in Maidenhead, Berkshire, in 1982.

A successful entrepreneur, Mike Ashley expanded to 50 stores throughout the United Kingdom by 1990 and rebranded his chain as Sports Soccer.

Sports Direct

By the late 1990s, Sports Soccer grew to more than 100 stores across the U.K. and was again rebranded as Sports Direct International PLC. The company grew to be the largest sporting goods chain in the United Kingdom, selling products for sports, lifestyle, and fitness.

Between 2004 and 2012, Ashley acquired over 20 companies including Carlton, Dunlop, LA Gear, No Fear, and Everlast Worldwide. At a value of £2.5 billion, Sports Direct International PLC went public through an initial public offering in February 2007.

As he grew as a leader in the sports equipment arena, Mike Ashley acted as a whistleblower in 2000, providing evidence to the Office of Fair Trading in the U.K. that many sports gear sellers colluded in price-fixing on sports jerseys and shirts.

In 2019, the company became Frasers Group PLC. As of 2022, the company operates more than 769 stores and employs more than 25,000.

Mike Ashley resigned as CEO, a role he held since 1982 when his company was founded, of Frasers Group PLC in May 2022. He remains a member of the board, retaining 64% of the company. As of August 2022, Mike Ashley’s net worth is $5.3 billion.

Newcastle United

Mike Ashley acquired the professional soccer team, Newcastle United, in 2007 for approximately £135 million. He is renowned for sitting in the stands with fans of the Premier League soccer club, a team founded in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1892. Newcastle United won the league championship in 2017.

In October 2021, Ashley sold Newcastle United to a consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund for approximately $400 million.

Is Mike Ashley Still an Active Business Investor?

As of 2022, Mike Ashley is pursuing the purchase of the Derby Soccer Club, currently up for bid. Having recently sold Newcastle United in 2021, Ashley remains interested in Club ownership.

What Trouble Has Sports Direct Faced?

The firm has been accused of exploiting its workers. In 2016, CEO Mike Ashley admitted workers at its Derbyshire warehouse were paid below the minimum wage and that the company fined staff for being late.

Do Any Stores Compete With Mike Ashley’s Chain of Sports Direct Stores?

A new, environmentally friendly, second-hand sports shop is close to securing funding and challenging Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct franchise in the United Kingdom.

Sports Traider is a charity shop that focuses on sporting goods and an alternative that will filter money that comes from Sports Traider back into the community.

The Bottom Line

Mike Ashley is regarded as a billionaire and successful British entrepreneur. He began as a squash player and coach and grew to lead the United Kingdom’s most successful retail sporting goods company. His role as CEO lasted for 40 years. Ashley’s lifelong interest in soccer influenced his purchase of the Newcastle United Premier League in the U.K.

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