Rangers said it treated "very seriously" the finding that the club along with JD Sports and Elite Sport allegedly broke competition law by fixing the prices of some club-branded clothing to keep them high at the expense of fans.

Britain's competition watchdog which has been investigating the matter since December 2020, said sports retailers Elite and JD fixed the retail prices of a number of Rangers-branded replica kits and other clothing products from September 2018 until at least July 2019.

Rangers FC also took part in the alleged collusion, by 'fixing' the retail price of adult home short-sleeved replica shirts from September 2018 until at least mid-November of that year.

In what are provisional findings of the Competition and Markets Authority, all three companies were accused of collusion to stop JD undercutting the retail price of the shirt on Elite’s Gers Online store.

Rangers has stressed that as they were provisional findings, it did not mean that it had broken the law.

The companies involved now have the chance to make representations to the CMA before it reaches a final decision.

The regulator alleges that Rangers FC became concerned about the fact that, at the start of the 2018-19 football season, JD Sports was selling the Rangers replica top at a lower price than Elite, which was seen at the time as the club’s ‘retail partner’.

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This resulted in an understanding between the three parties that JD Sports would increase its retail price of the Rangers adult short-sleeved home replica shirt by nearly 10%, from £55 to £60, to bring it in line with the prices being charged by Elite on Gers Online.

The CMA is also concerned that Elite and JD Sports – without involvement from Rangers – colluded to fix the retail prices of Rangers-branded clothing, including training wear and replica kit, over a longer period.

This included aligning the level and timing of discounts towards the end of the football season in 2019, to avoid competition between them and protect their profit margins at the expense of fans.

The CMA said that Elite and JD Sports applied for leniency during the investigation and confessed to cartel activity.

CMA said that provided they continue to cooperate with the investigation, each will receive a reduction on any financial penalties the CMA may decide to impose.

Any business found to have infringed the prohibitions in the Competition Act 1998 can be fined up to 10% of its annual worldwide group turnover.

Rangers said it was CMA's provisional view only and insisted it was not a finding that Rangers had broken the law and "does not mean that the CMA will issue a final decision or impose a fine on the club".

"Rangers is committed to operating its business in full compliance with all laws, including competition law, and treats this matter very seriously," a club spokesman said. "As such, Rangers will review in detail the CMA’s preliminary findings and will be submitting its response to the CMA in due course. Rangers notes that it has cooperated with the CMA since the investigation was initiated and will continue to do so."

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JD Sports Fashion said it planned to book a hit of about £2m to cover any fine from the CMA and legal costs in its annual results for the year to 29 January, which it will release "shortly".

A Chapter I prohibition in the Competition Act 1998 prohibits agreements and concerted practices between businesses which have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the UK.

The CMA's statement of objections over the collusion was addressed to Elite Sports Group Limited and its parent company Elite Corporation Limited; JD Sports Fashion Plc; The Rangers Football Club Limited and its parent company Rangers International Football Club Plc.

A statement of objections gives parties notice of a proposed infringement decision under the Competition Act 1998.

The CMA says is a provisional decision only and does not necessarily lead to an infringement decision.

Parties have the opportunity to make written and oral representations on the matters set out in the statement of objections. Any such representations will be considered by the CMA before a final decision is made.

The final decision will be taken by a case decision group, which is separate from the investigation team and was not involved in the decision to issue the statement of objections.

The CMA say that under its leniency policy, a business that has been involved in a cartel may be granted immunity from penalties or a significant reduction in penalty in return for reporting cartel activity and assisting the regulator with its investigation.

The watchdog said anyone involved in cartel activity may also in certain defined circumstances be granted immunity from criminal prosecution for the cartel offence under the Enterprise Act 2002 and from competition disqualification proceedings.

The CMA also operates a rewards policy under which it may pay a financial reward of up to £100,000 in return for information which helps it to identify and take action against cartels. For more information on the CMA’s leniency and informant reward policies, go to leniency and rewards.

“We don’t hesitate to take action when we have concerns that companies may be working together to keep costs up,” said CMA executive director of enforcement Michael Grenfell.

“Football fans are well-known for their loyalty towards their teams. We are concerned that, in this case, Elite, JD Sports and, to some extent, Rangers, may have colluded to keep prices high, so that the two retailers could pocket more money for themselves at the expense of fans.”