Replica shirt business guilty of price-fixing

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The Independent Online
LEADING FOOTBALL clubs and manufacturers are promising cheaper replica kits after being found guilty of price-fixing.

The news, which came the day before the opening of the new football season, followed an investigation into the market by the Office of Fair Trading. It had received a "flood of complaints" from retailers that manufacturers threatened to withhold supplies if the shops sold cut-price kits. The pledge to end the practice will come as a relief to parents who have had to find as much as pounds 50 each football season to keep their offspring in up-to-the-minute strips.

John Bridgeman, the Director-General of Fair Trading, announced that the Football Association, the Scottish FA and the English Premier League clubs had given him assurances that they would now take action to prevent resale price maintenance in the pounds 210m-a-year replica kit market. "Retailers told us that manufacturers had threatened to withhold supplies of replica kits if resale prices dropped below a set minimum. This is unlawful under the Resale Prices Act," he said.

"We also have conclusive evidence that some Premier League clubs have encouraged manufacturers to prevent discounting. In doing this they have not themselves breached the law, because they are not considered to be suppliers, but any involvement in price maintenance is totally unacceptable." Companies and clubs involved in the investigation included Gilbert and Pollard Sports, which supplied Coventry City, and Puma UK and Asics (UK), which supplied kit for Leeds United.

The OFT also had "strong suspicions" about a further five Premiership clubs.

Mr Bridgeman said he welcomed the co-operation of the associations and clubs "in trying to root out price-fixing."

He added: "I have no doubt that both supporters and parents have been paying artificially high prices."

At present, the average price of a replica shirt for an adult is pounds 40, and pounds 55 for a full kit. Clubs benefit from the sale of replica kits by issuing licences to manufacturers, receiving royalties on each kit sold and receiving additional income from their own shops and mail-order operations. There was delight over the move at the Consumers' Association, which has campaigned on the issue in the past. "It looks like there has been an unhealthy alliance between clubs and manufacturers to keep prices up and exploit the loyalty of their fans," said Phil Evans, senior policy researcher at the association.

"It would now be nice to see the clubs apologise and bring prices of the new kits down significantly to show the fans some loyalty back," he said. Mr Bridgeman added that parents and fans should shop around and question prices, warning that if they did not find a choice of products and prices then "the OFT will want to know about it".

He pointed out that from 1 March next year he will have new investigative powers and will be able to impose penalties of up to 10 per cent of UK turnover on any company involved in price-fixing.