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Goals kickstarts search for new sites as it targets US expansion

GOALS Soccer Centres has signalled its growing confidence by confirming it will begin opening sites again.

PERFECT PITCH: Goals' chief executive Keith Rogers said the company had thorough knowledge of football in the United States and wanted to utilise that. Picture: Goals Soccer Centres
PERFECT PITCH: Goals' chief executive Keith Rogers said the company had thorough knowledge of football in the United States and wanted to utilise that. Picture: Goals Soccer Centres

The five-a-side football company held back from new development in 2013 while it focused on paying down debt, beefing up internal structures and investing in digital platforms.

Now Goals, which has 43 sites in the UK and one in Los Angeles in the US, is once again planning to grow its estate.

Chief executive Keith Rogers confirmed the UK openings are likely to be in England but declined to be more specific than that. On the possibility of adding more US facilities, he said: "That is a market we are very interested in and that pilot site has been a big  success. We have spent the last two years getting to understand the market and the peculiarities and differences between that and the UK market.

"We believe we have a very thorough and good knowledge of soccer in the west coast of the US and how that relates to five-a-side football. We now want to utilise that."

Mr Rogers said more details on new sites would be given in March when the company reports its annual results. Goals said total sales for 2013 grew 3% from £32.5 million to £33.5m with like-for-like sales increasing 2%.

The pause in development work helped net debt fall to £46m by the end of the year, down from more than £50m at the end of 2012.

Mr Rogers said: "What is encouraging now is we are seeing all areas of the business react positively. Although 75% of our sales and almost all of our profits come from football, I think looking at things like kids' parties and corporate events, where we are seeing positive growth, [give] good indicators for the economy and how things are in general out there."

Mr Rogers said several staff have been added at the company's East Kilbride headquarters in senior manager positions in areas including human resources and marketing. The business also hired additional call centre employees. Examples he highlighted from an organisational review of the business included re-writing operational manuals in a more engaging manner and providing more head office support to its centres.

A new website and mobile device app are scheduled to launch later this year.

Mr Rogers said: "The work we are doing in the digital arena is really exciting. We believe [the app] will be revolutionary in five-a-side football in some of the functionality it provides to players and team organisers and will make their lives a hell of a lot easier than it is now."

Analysts at Panmure said the Goals trading update was in line with expectations and reiterated its buy recommendation and 213p price target on the shares.

It added: "Management expect to recommence the rollout of additional centres later this year, which we believe is a positive. We leave our forecasts unchanged."

Wayne Brown, at Goals' house broker Canaccord, raised his price target on the stock from 200p to 220p. He believes the Los Angeles site is the most profitable in the group and added: "With de-leveraging on track we are increasingly confident the group should return to a more dynamic growth strategy over the medium term."

Shares in Goals plunged 20% to 115.5p in August 2012 when shareholders rejected a £73.1m takeover offer by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan.

However, the stock recovered throughout 2013 and has been trading at its highest price since 2009 this January.

Shares closed down 1.5p, or 1%, at 192.5p.

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