Today I heard from a very good source that Sevco expects Puma to launch a court action against them shortly over the failure to hold an official launch for the 2016-17 kit, which the company has produced as per their manufacturing agreement, but which the club has decided will not be allowed to go on sale through the Sports Direct websites and stores.
As this site revealed at the time, King’s decision not to let Sports Direct sell anything bearing the club brands put them on a collision course not only with Mike Ashley and his company but with their other commercial partners.
Now it appears that Puma are set to take them to court over the costs incurred in producing the shirts and in an official launch which didn’t take place.
According to my source, Puma were due at Ibrox for the launch on 2 June, but the club pulled out of that after King’s crazy decision. Puma then offered to mediate between King’s board and Sports Direct, in an effort to get some sort of sensible solution which would have allowed Sevco fans to buy the shirts.
That was knocked on the head.
King wasn’t interested in any mediation which involved coming to an agreement with Ashley.
Puma tried a couple of different approaches in an effort to get this matter resolved, all to no avail.
Then, according to my source, there was a meeting last week at Ibrox involving senior members of the board and Puma representatives … and their respective legal departments. At that meeting, it was made known to Puma that the sportswear company could not even proceed with selling the shirts through their own website because Sports Direct have an exclusivity agreement and the sole right to sell merchandise on behalf of the club.
They had already tried that late last month and were prevented from doing it by Sports Direct.
Now, faced with a situation where no shirt sales at all are likely during the course of the season, Puma has apparently decided to resolve the matter through a legal process. At the end of the day, their contract is with the Ibrox club. How the club deals with its commercial partners is something Puma has no interest in at all. They expected shirt sales. They paid upfront monies on the strength of those sales.
The company clearly believes it faces significant losses on the back of this debacle, and they are not prepared to tolerate it.
Part of what angers the sportswear firm the most is that they weren’t even consulted prior to King and his board making the announcement that Sports Direct would no longer be able to trade in any goods that had the club’s intellectual property stamp on them.
This was a classic King move, to present this as some kind of fait accompli, but he reckoned without the anger of Puma and the shirt sponsors 32Red, who are said to be equally furious and considering their own options.
Their deal with the club has a further year left to run – Puma’s has two years left – and with a hefty advance already paid into the Ibrox coffers it seems only a matter of time before they, too, send a legal team and insist on clawing some of it back.