OFT raids JJB over price-fixing claims

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The Office of Fair Trading has launched a series of raids on sports goods manufacturers and retailers as part of an investigation into price fixing of replica football kits.

Nike said it had received a visit at its Newcastle offices yesterday morning. JJB Sports, Britain's biggest sports goods retailer, reported a visit last week. Other groups on the hit list are understood to include Umbro, which makes shirts for many Premier league teams, and two other sports chains, All Sports and Sports Soccer.

The OFT has not yet launched a formal investigation into the price of replica football shirts, which typically cost £39.99. News of the raids only emerged when JJB Sports issued a stock market statement following the advice of its broker, UBS Warburg.

JJB said its offices had been visited by the OFT "as part of the ongoing investigation by the OFT into price fixing relating to the 'replica kit' market". It said it was co-operating fully and that JJB "has never been involved in price fixing either of replica, or indeed any other product".

The OFT later confirmed the raids saying it had made several "visits" in the UK "as part of an investigation into alleged price fixing of replica football kits."

The price of replica shirts has long been a subject of debate. This together with the frequent changes of strip by clubs has led to fans feeling they are being "ripped off". Manchester United has launched 19 different kits in eight years.

However, the tide has begun to turn. JJB says its sales of replica shirts are flat. And Chelsea chairman Ken Bates said last October that sales of replica kits had "not been easy".