The CMA has issued a Statement of Objections against Elite Sports, JD Sports and Rangers FC, provisionally finding that they broke competition law by fixing the retail prices of Rangers-branded clothing products. Whilst these are the CMA’s provisional findings, the CMA’s final decision is likely to result in fines being imposed. The alleged price fixing appears to closely resemble the Replica Shirts case in 2003 when the CMA’s predecessor, Office of Fair Trading (OFT), fined Manchester United, the FA, JJB Sports, Umbro and various other sports clothing retailers a total of £18.6m.
According to the CMA, Elite Sports and JD Sports fixed the retail prices of Rangers-branded replica kits and other clothing products from September 2018 until at least July 2019. Rangers FC also took part in the alleged collusion by fixing the retail price of home replica shirts in 2018 and colluding to stop JD Sports undercutting the retail price of the shirt on Elite’s online store. At the time, Elite was the manufacturer of Rangers-branded clothing and seen as Rangers FC’s ‘retail partner’.
The CMA alleges that Rangers FC had expressed concerns over JD Sports selling Rangers replica tops at a lower price than Elite. The three parties then agreed that JD Sports would increase its retail price from £55 to £60, to align with Elite’s online pricing.
Elite and JD Sports are also considered to have then colluded on retail prices of Rangers-branded clothing over a longer period, which would constitute a serious infringement of competition law. Elite and JD Sports have applied for leniency and confessed to cartel activity.
In parallel, the CMA is also investigating Leicester City FC and JD Sports for suspected infringements in relation to the sale of Leicester City-branded products.
These cases serve as yet another reminder of the risk of resale price maintenance resulting in horizontal collusion between competing retailers.