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Sports Authority files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Big-box chain Sports Authority lost its bid to remain in the retail game without a dramatic restructuring as the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Tuesday.

The retailer — owned by Los Angeles-based private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners — said it would seek to sell or close about 140 stores, or nearly one-third of its locations, after failing to keep up with consumer trends.

Although bankruptcy often offers companies a second chance at life, Englewood, Colo.-based Sports Authority's survival is not guaranteed. The company said it would pursue either a comprehensive debt restructuring plan or a sale of all or some of its assets.

Sports Authority storefront
Courtesy Sports Authority

"We are taking this action so that we can continue to adapt our business to meet the changing dynamics in the retail industry," Sports Authority CEO Michael E. Foss said in a statement. "We intend to use the Chapter 11 process to streamline and strengthen our business both operationally and financially so that we have the financial flexibility to continue to make necessary investments in our operations."

The company, which filed for bankruptcy in a federal court in Delaware, currently operates 463 stores in 41 states and Puerto Rico. Its top 10 unsecured creditors include Nike, which is owed $47.9 million, and Under Armour, which is owed $23.2 million.

Sports Authority's private equity owner took the retailer private after acquiring it for $1.3 billion in 2006. In the 1990s, the company was held by Kmart before being spun off.

In retail bankruptcies, a sale could come to competitors or investors who plan to keep the company afloat in some capacity or to a liquidator that plans to sell the remaining assets to the highest bidder.

Foss said the company has received "strong interest from third parties interested in buying some or all" of the company.

In addition to the 140 stores it plans to offload, the company also plans to close distribution centers in Chicago and Denver.

Liquidation sales will begin Friday if the company wins approval for its motion from a bankruptcy judge, according to a court filing. Store managers and sales people at the affected stores could get bonuses for staying with the company through completion.

The company, legally incorporated as TSA Stores, said it had secured access to up to $595 million in bankruptcy financing that will help it keep its doors open for now. The financing is contingent upon approval for the liquidation sales.

Sports Authority said customers would still be able to use gift cards. But bankruptcy experts often advise customers to spend store gift cards quickly when a retailer files for bankruptcy because those gift cards can be rendered effectively worthless if the restructuring converts to an all-out liquidation.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.