Manchester United and several leading sportswear firms have been ordered to pay more than £16m ($29m) in fines for fixing the price of football shirts.
Replica football shirts are popular among fans
The ruling from the Competition Appeal Tribunal upholds a decision by the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in 2003.
The OFT imposed fines on 10 firms following a probe into the price-fixing of replica football shirts.
Whilst it backed the OFT's decision, the tribunal did cut the fines handed down to Man Utd, JJB Sports and Umbro.
It increased the fine levied on retailer Allsports to £1.42m, from £1.35m.
Manchester United, JJB Sports, Umbro and Allsports appealed against the fines, imposed in August 2003.
LAUNCH PRICE OF REPLICA SHORT-SLEEVE SHIRT
England (2005-7): £29.95
Manchester Utd (2004-6): £39
Arsenal (2004-5): £39
Celtic (2005-6): £39.99
Source: Football Association/club shops
Replica kits have been an extremely lucrative source of revenue for clubs, many of which launch new home and away strips every season.
Sales of replica kits are worth more than £200m, according to UK-based consumer research analyst Mintel.
The OFT 's original investigation began in June 2001, following complaints over the price of England and Manchester United short-sleeve adult and junior shirts.
The watchdog found that in the run-up to Euro 2000, most retailers were selling replica England football kits for no less than £39.99.
Four years later - following the watchdog's investigation - similar shirts were available for as little as £25.
JJB Sports' fine - the largest single penalty originally imposed by the OFT - was cut to £6.3m from £8.37m; Umbro's fine was reduced to £5.3m from £6.6m; and Manchester United's fine reduced to £1.5m from £1.6m.
Umbro - the maker of the new England kit - had its fine cut
JJB Sports said it was disappointed the reduction in its fine did not go further. The company said it planned to appeal against the tribunal's ruling.
But OFT chairman Sir John Vickers welcomed the decision.
"Anti-competitive agreements to fix the prices of replica kit exploited the loyalty of fans," he said. "The (tribunal) has confirmed that such serious breaches of competition law call for penalties with serious deterrence."
Six other organisations were fined by the OFT but did not appeal.
They were the Football Association (£158,000); Blacks (£197,000); Sports Soccer (£123,000); JD Sports (£73,000); Sports Connection (£20,000); and online store Sportsetail (fine reduced to nil by leniency).
In its 2003 ruling, the OFT also found that price agreements had been put in place for the sale of Chelsea, Celtic and Nottingham Forest shirts, but these clubs were not fined.
What do you think of the Competition Appeal Tribunal's decision? Do you buy replica kits, if so, do you think they are over-priced? Send us your comments using the form below.
I no longer buy the kits for any club due to the cost. My passion doesn't extend this far. I can't blame the companies though, people only buy when they think it's worth it. This discussion could extend to the players/directors wages, now there's a thought.
Richard Garner, Grimsby
I bet Malcolm Glazer's even more delighted he fought to buy Man U now! He's going to have to reduce prices for replica kit, rather than hike it as he no doubt thought he would!
Rory, Shenley, UK
I think it is disgraceful these corporate giants are exploiting kids in order to line their own pockets. This sort of 'price fixing' needs to be stamped out and I think the firms should consider themselves lucky there was any leniency shown towards them. I'm sure all their kids get the latest gear but what about those who have to make their money legitimately?
Matthew Smith, Surrey
I am an Arsenal supporter and I believe that replicas are too expensive. I get my replicas through friends in the UK as they are not readily available locally. Most fans, however, end up buying knock offs from the Far East because the genuine products are unaffordable. So the fines are justifiable especially if it has been proved that the replicas are over-priced.
Nyasha Mukurumbira, Harare, Zimbabwe
Too little too late. How many years have loyal supporters been ripped off to wear their teams' colours. The money should go back to the fans.
Andy Maine, Daventry, UK
With a bit of luck this will help stop fans being ripped off for there support and loyalty. As a Wycombe Wanderers FC fan I count myself lucky that the team only launches one new kit a season (home one season, away the next) so that fans get two years life out of their shirts and don't have to spend nearly £100 a season (on top of tickets) to show their support for their team. Maybe the Premier league should consider enforcing a similar system to make it fairer still.
James Ray, London, England
I applaud the fines, but where does the money go? Back to those fans that have been ripped off for all these years? I can't complain as I bought an official England shirt for £14.99 in a closing down sale. Perhaps the OFT could also look into rugby and cricket shirts as they seem to be similarly priced too!
John Ingarfield, London, England
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