Mike Ashley’s sportswear empire delivered another surge in profits today after a better-than-expected half-year trading performance.

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Sports Direct International, which is controlled by the Newcastle United FC owner, said the 17% rise in profits to £146.2million reinforced the company’s position as “the consumer champion”.

The figures continue the group’s strong run that helped it earn promotion to the FTSE 100 Index for the first time in September following a 70% leap in its share price.

The group believes much of its success is down to the positive impact of a lucrative bonus scheme, which recently rewarded around 2,000 staff with shares worth more than £68,000.

Today’s performance keeps the company on track to meet targets under a new four-year bonus scheme, due in the summer of 2015.

The company, which has 409 stores in the UK and also operates in 19 other countries, said trading at the start of the current half year had returned to more normal patterns following the first half boost

Sports retail revenues increased 13.4% to £903.3m in the half-year, driven by online growth of 43% to £158m, representing 15% of total sales. Earnings in the division rose 17% to £168.4m.

Its brands division, which includes Slazenger, Donnay and Karrimor, saw revenues decrease 0.7% to £106.2m in the six months.

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