Mike Ashley takes Newcastle United to court in row over kit sales

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley sold the club to a Saudi-led consortium in 2021. Credit: PA

Former Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has taken the club's new owners to court in a row over stocking next season's kit.

The Sports Direct boss sold the club to a Saudi-led consortium back in 2021, whose deal with another retailer has now effectively banned the store from stocking the new strip.

At a hearing in the Competition Appeal's Tribunal in London today (Tuesday 9 April 2024), the store was described by its lawyers as "the home of football", known for its "competitive pricing".

The shirt is one of the country's biggest sellers, and the new Adidas strip, which will launch in the summer, is expected to be hugely popular.

Lawyers for Sports Direct told judges an "exclusive" UK deal has instead been struck with its big rival JD Sports - a move which it claims breaks competition rules.

Sports Direct says roughly 60% of total sales happen around the time of a kit launch before the new season, but that the annual order the company placed for this summer was refused - potentially damaging its revenue and its reputation.

Describing Sports Direct as a "gorilla in the marketplace", the club's lawyers told the hearing that teams like Leicester, Leeds and Celtic, along with the Scottish and Welsh Football Associations, already have similar arrangements to the one Newcastle United wants to put in place.

The hearing was also told that Sports Direct had put in place an agreement with Glasgow Rangers to be the only big high street store supplying its new kit for the lucrative month after its launch.

Newcastle United's new owners are insistent that they have every right to take the new shirt from the old owners back and sell it through someone else.

The judge heard from the Sports Direct legal team that excluding the store from selling the jersey would be "consumer harming" as it would cut out the retailer "that offers consumers the lowest prices".

Newcastle United's representatives dismissed that, and said their proposed system would see shirts sold independently by JD Sports, the club's own outlets, and Adidas would provide a form of effective competition.

The hearing today was the first step in this legal battle, with Sports Direct's lawyers effectively seeking to implement an injunction to stop this new arrangement, pending a more detailed trial into the matter.

The outcome of that application will be returned at a later date.

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