OFT gets tough on sportswear cartels

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has launched an investigation into possible price-rigging across the branded sportswear sector. Should the investigation proceed, the law firms and barristers already involved on the related football shirt price-rigging investigation stand to rake in hundreds of thousands of pounds extra in fees.

An OFT spokesperson told The Lawyer: “We've launched an investigation into the branded sportswear market, but at this stage you can't assume there is any competition infringement. This is a separate investigation to the one into replica kits.”

Two months ago, the OFT sent out requests for information to Umbro and to retailers such as JJB Sports, Allsports Limited and the Blacks Leisure Group plc who, together with the Football Association and Manchester United Football Club, were already under investigation for price-rigging on football kits. A source close to the investigation said that Nike has also been asked for information. A Nike spokesperson declined to comment.

It is understood that the sports retailers were asked for information about their top-20 products, including kits, clothing and shoes. Umbro in-house lawyer Catherine Roseveare, who is understood to be running the company's case, said: “We're helping the OFT with any queries they may have.”

It is possible that the OFT discovered something while investigating the football shirts cartel that led to the broader investigation. One investigation insider said: “Football shirts was an easy one for the OFT to carve out and having done that, maybe they thought they'd go for the whole lot.”

Lovells did some work for Umbro in the earlier investigation, but it is understood that most of the work on branded sportswear queries is being handled in-house and by Nick Green QC at Brick Court Chambers. DLA also has a hand in representing JJB Sports. Mark Brearley QC, also of Brick Court, and Richard Fowler of Monckton Chambers are advising retailers.