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How a bitter sportswear rivalry tripped up the sneaker king

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Already, JD was on his way to even greater dominance. In the spring of that year he had acquired Footasylum for £90m. With 70 stores, the family chain had managed to maintain a niche in the athleisure market.

Unusually, Cowgill had chosen to proceed with the deal without notifying the AMC in advance. According to documents reviewed by The Telegraph, he said privately that the move was not anti-competitive, but that he did so after promising a member of Footasylum’s founding family who was seriously ill.

A JD spokesperson declined to comment for the conversation, but said, “JD obtained legal and economist advice on the likelihood of the CMA clearing this acquisition during Phase 1 review and was ultimately happy to proceed. .”

Despite comments he made privately, Cowgill publicly dismissed suggestions of personal favors on Footasylum. “I wouldn’t spend £90million on anyone. I couldn’t,” he said in 2020.

After a long battle in which the CMA was forced to investigate the deal and twice found it anti-competitive, JD was forced this month to sell Footasylum. Cowgill’s decision not to seek pre-clearance meant that she retained control of the sales process. The ultimate buyer for just £38million, less than half of what JD paid, was Aurelius, a fund specializing in the profitability of struggling companies.

Frasers, a serial acquirer of those assets himself, made an indicative offer of £100million according to documents seen by The Telegraph, but was left out of the Deloitte-led process. In response to an email from Frasers advisers asking for confirmation that signing an NDA would allow him to participate in the second round of the auction, accounting firm Big Four broke the bad news.

“After talking with JD today, he has no plans to introduce any other parties to the process at this time,” he said.
Today, JD remembers things differently.

“Frasers refused to sign the same NDA as all the other bidders and therefore never entered the process,” it says. “The CMA was kept informed every step of the way and raised no objections to the process or even the end result.”

He rejects Frasers’ suggestions that consumers are being harmed by his increasingly exclusive relationships with big brands. Findings on Rangers kits are irrelevant to a global market, he argues.

“It is clear that the CMA does not agree with any of Fraser’s assertions in this regard,” a spokesperson said. “The premium sportswear segment is a highly competitive global market both in stores and online and it is totally wrong to try to tie this segment to the CMA’s investigation into replica sportswear kits. soccer.”

Cowgill’s connections also allowed JD to go global. In 2018, he acquired the American chain Finish Line under Ashley’s nose. Frasers had built up a 19% stake as a beachhead in the world’s most lucrative market, but lost out to JD, believing the powerful big brands had warned Finish Line against merging with it. There is, however, no evidence to support these suspicions.

JD says, “JD’s continued global success is tied to one thing. A relentless commitment to understand better than anyone else what their consumer heart wants, focused on sports and “street” fashion. This allows JD to select and deliver a tailored and highly differentiated product offering for its clearly defined target audience. »

The battle is not over yet, however. Frasers remains in contact with the CMA, which is monitoring the market. JD appointed a more conventional big business executive in Regis Schultz to impose a new culture. Meanwhile, between trips to Mallorca this summer, Cowgill is still negotiating his exit package with the JD and its majority shareholders, the Rubin family. Industry rumors have even linked him to a role with Footasylum.

“It’s common for exit agreements to contain non-compete clauses,” says JD.