Competition in a car park

The JD Sports-Footasylum saga took a surreal turn this week with revelations of an attempted incognito meeting between chairmen. The story was revealed after the Competitions and Market Authority (CMA) ordered JD Sports to sell Footasylum over competition policy.

Like regulators around the world, the CMA is taking a more pro-active, hands-on approach to competition issues and monopolistic practices. The fear of a single company dominating the sports footwear market was enough to convince the regulator to take action.

Following the purchase of Footasylum in April 2019, the CMA decided to force the sale to address competition concerns and protect consumers. Kip Meek, Chair of the CMA inquiry group, said: ‘We strongly believe shoppers could suffer if Footasylum stopped having to compete with JD Sports. It is likely they would pay more for less choice, worse service and lower quality.’

Then things took a slight 70s movies style turn. The Sunday Times reported that on the 5th of July, JD Sports’ Executive Chairman Peter Cowgill met with Barry Bown, his opposite number from Footasylum. At the scene of a nondescript car park in Bury, the men were joined by the parent company’s general counsel Siobhan Mawdsley, who sat in the back seat. The Sunday Times was able to provide video footage of the meeting.

First thing on Monday morning JD Sports put out an RNS announcement making clear the meeting was entirely normal. It said: ‘Peter Cowgill has known Barry Bown on a business and personal basis for over 25 years. As a result, it is not unusual, or in any way suspicious or illegitimate, for them to meet from time to time, including in relation to the ongoing review by the Competition and Markets Authority…’ It further stated that the board ‘treat governance matters extremely seriously and with the utmost transparency’.

Move along, nothing to see here, then. But who filmed the meeting, and why?

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