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Mike Ashley loses second round in battle with Newcastle United owners

Mike Ashley and Sports Direct were objecting to the Newcastle United owners’ plans to have the new replica kits for the 2024/25 season available only from the club, Adidas themselves and JD Sports.

However, last Friday (12 April 2024) all three members of the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) refused to give Mike Ashley and Sports Direct an injunction against the Newcastle United owners.

Mike Ashley and Sports Direct wanted to appeal against last Friday’s ruling.

However, The Athletic have now revealed that today (Friday 19 April) the court have denied them permission to do so, saying they “do not consider that the appeal has any real prospect of success.”

So Mike Ashley and Sports Direct losing the second round as well of this action / dispute, with hopefully a final conclusion (and defeat for Mike Ashley!) in the near future.

The Mag report – 12 April 2024:

Mike Ashley has suffered a major setback, with the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) refusing to give him an injunction against the Newcastle United owners.

Ashley’s Sports Direct had been trying to get an injunction to force Newcastle United to supply the retailer with next season’s 2024/25 NUFC kit.

Mike Ashley is objecting to the Newcastle United owners plans to have the new replica kits available only from the club, Adidas themselves and JD Sports.

Sports Direct / Mike Ashley were seeking damages and an injunction, which would have ordered the club to supply next season’s replica kits until a court resolution is reached.

However, all three members of the tribunal panel ruled unanimously to refuse the injunction.

The parties will now go to trial in order to resolve the overall dispute.

Sports Direct are wanting the case to be heard by June 7, which is when the 2024/25 Newcastle United home strip is set to be launched.

The Athletic reporting on the tribunal outcome and the Mike Ashley v Newcastle United owners case overall – Friday 12 April 2024:

The club’s argument is that by selling their kit through three primary retailers — the club itself, manufacturers Adidas, and an exclusive agreement with JD Sport — there is “no evidence that there will be any impact on competition”, citing similar arrangements in place at Leeds United, Leicester City, and with the Scottish and Welsh FA’s.

Newcastle have taken the club store back under their wing as they seek to drive commercial revenue, having previously been operated by existing kit manufacturer Castore. Chief commercial officer Peter Silverstone said in his witness statement that an injunction would “kill off our retail operation”, which Singla described as “completely wrong”.

Summarising, Justice Smith wrote that: “We do not consider the proposition that a refusal by a dominant undertaking (Newcastle United) to supply another undertaking (Sports Direct) gives rise to an arguable case of abuse without some further allegation or averment.”

According to the panel, the reasons for this were threefold: that “there is a potential fragility in Sports Direct’s supply chain that has nothing to do with Newcastle United FC”, that “the new owners of the dominant undertaking were entitled to revisit the supply arrangements for NUFC Replica Kit”, and finally that there was no obligation on Newcastle United to continue their supply based on Sports Direct’s dominant position in the market.

Justice Smith concluded that: “We consider that this refusal makes a speedy trial more, and not less, urgent.”

The Mag report 9 April 2024:

Last month, it was revealed that Mike Ashley was taking action against Newcastle United and had submitted a claim to the Competition Appeals Tribunal.

This due to NUFC switching from Castore to Adidas. With apart from the official club shop(s) and Adidas themselves, JD Sports having an exclusivity deal to sell replica kit starting next season.

Mike Ashley and Sports Direct giving Newcastle United until March 28 to reply to the claim, before a hearing on April 9, with the claim also asking for damages to be paid.

That claim lodged at the Competition Appeal Tribunal revealed that Ashley was suing his former club for ‘abusing its dominant position in the market’ by not supplying 50,900 units of Newcastle merchandise. That order, made up mainly of shirts for the 2024/25 season.

It was a massive moment when the last visible remainder of Mike Ashley and his Sports Direct graffiti was removed after the new owners took over.

The shameless former NUFC owner even then trying (and failing!) to try and insist all of his free advertising should stay at St James’ Park.

Mike Ashley taking action because now Newcastle United are switching from Castore to Adidas, Ashley’s jumble sale Sports Direct empire won’t be able to stock NUFC replica kit any more, as apart from the official club shop(s) and Adidas themselves, JD Sports set to have an exclusivity deal.

When this tribunal case was reported last month, a source close to Mike Ashley was reported in the media claiming that “football fans will ultimately suffer from higher prices.”


Newcastle United suffered for over 14 years under Mike Ashley!’

Anyway, now we have reached 9 April 2024 and indeed the case has now gone to a tribunal.

With now reported to by the BBC what has been said, as Mike Ashley and Sports Direct take on the Newcastle United owners and Adidas.

BBC News report – 9 April 2024:

‘Newcastle United’s proposal to sell next season’s shirts exclusively through JD Sports is “unlawful”, rival firm Sports Direct has claimed.

Sports Direct, run by former Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, is seeking an injunction from the Competition Appeal Tribunal to stop the deal.

Company lawyers said preventing the “home of football supplies” selling cheaper shirts would harm fans.

Newcastle United said there was “no evidence” competition would be damaged.

At the tribunal in London, Sports Direct’s barrister Tony Singla KC said football was “essential” to the firm, which was the “largest sports retailer in the UK” with 488 stores.

He said Sports Direct had sold “all of the top league replica kits including Newcastle for decades”.

But the company has been told that next season it won’t be able to sell any Newcastle United replica kits, Mr Singla said, which was an “abuse”, “anti-competitive” and “unlawful” without an “objective justification”.

He said Newcastle United said they wanted to bring the sales in-house but, accepting it needed a wider distribution, had also agreed an exclusivity deal with JD Sports.

Mr Singla said the reason Sports Direct was being cut out was because of the firm’s “discounting practices” which sees them selling shirts at cheaper prices than others.

He said the proposed deal would harm consumers and “distort” the market because the “retailer that offered the lowest prices” would be excluded.

Mr Singla said Sports Direct would suffer from a loss of “substantial” sales, footfall and reputation.

He said if Newcastle fans were unable to buy their kits at Sports Direct then they wouldn’t buy other goods there either and “may never come back”, with people “losing faith in the credibility” of the store.

Thomas de la Mare KC, representing Newcastle United, said Sports Direct had not produced a “scintilla of evidence” to show the deal would harm competition and there was “simply no evidence” to substantiate the claim.

He said what was proposed was a “tripartite” arrangement between the club, manufacturer Adidas and retailer JD Sports, the likes of which had “been in the market for up to 10 years without attracting attention”.

He said comparable sized clubs such as Celtic, or “one-city” teams including Leicester City and Leeds United, and even the Welsh and Scottish FAs had agreed exclusivity deals with JD Sports which the “gorilla in the marketplace”, Sports Direct, had not objected to.

Mr de la Mare said the only club Sports Direct had taken legal action against was Newcastle United, which Mr Ashley sold for £305m to the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund in 2021 after 14 turbulent years at the Magpies’ helm.

Mr de la Mare also said Sports Direct had itself signed such “cosy” exclusivity deals with manufacturer Castore to sell Rangers and Newcastle kits.

That deal meant only Sports Direct could sell the teams’ kits in the first month of launch which Mr de la Mare said was a “critical period” for selling new shirts.

He also said Sports Direct did not sell the full Newcastle kit, claiming the firm had not ordered any socks and wanted only one pair of shorts for every 22 shirts.

The tribunal heard Sports Direct currently pays Adidas £16.55 per shirt for other Premier League clubs supplied by the German manufacturer and wants to buy about 14% of the Newcastle United shirts produced.

Newcastle’s kit is currently made by Castore, but the club has agreed a “multi-year partnership” with Adidas starting in the 2024-25 season.


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