POWERLEAGUE, the five-a-side football pitch company, has increased its lead as the largest operator in the UK after snapping up 69 pitches operated by retailer JJB Sports for £17.4 million.
The deal includes the world's biggest five-a-side centre in Old Trafford in Manchester, which alone has 22 pitches, as well as sites at North Shields, Blackburn, Derby and in Wigan, adjacent to the JJB Stadium. Powerleague now has 455 pitches at 43 sites and expects to have 120,000 players a week using its pitches by the end of June.
Sean Tracey, chief executive of the Paisley-based company, said the new sites were "the jewels in the crown" of the sector, all with "next generation" surfaces and minimal investment required in the short term. He said he believed that the pitches would also allow the company to attract new sponsorship deals. Powerleague will now "pause for breath" in terms of organic growth, with no new openings this financial year, which ends on 30 June.
On Monday East Kilbride-based rival Goals Soccer Centre announced the 6m acquisition of Pro5, and Tracey said there were further consolidation opportunities available.
"There are still some independent operators and some small multi-site operators and we wouldn't rule out going back to the market for further acquisitions."
The deal sees JJB Sports become the official retailer for Powerleague, giving it signage around the pitches and potential sales opportunities across Powerleague's estate. As the retailer increases the number of fitness clubs it runs, Powerleague has the opportunity to add extra pitches nearby.
Most of the acquired pitches – 57 – are indoor, providing the opportunity of playing football later at night, previously shut off for Powerleague, which has only a handful of indoor sites in the City.
Tracey said: "Obviously we won't be restricted by floodlights so we're considering operating midnight leagues, for shift workers and people working very late at night. We think there's a market."
Wigan-based JJB, which described the pitches as "non-core", was the third-largest five-a-side pitch operator in the UK, attracting around 20,000 players a week, behind Powerleague and Goals, which has around 80,000 player a week using its pitches.