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French regulator clears path for Ineos’ Nice takeover

British petrochemicals company Ineos is poised to complete a takeover of French Ligue 1 football club OGC Nice after the proposed deal was cleared by the country’s competition regulator, the Autorité de la concurrence.

The regulator’s involvement in the transaction has marked the first time it has studied a deal involving a professional football club. On July 22, Ineos notified the Autorité of its plan to acquire control of SASP Olympique Gymnaste Club de Nice Côte d’Azur, which manages the club, in a deal reported to be worth €100m ($110.8m).

Ineos stepped up its pursuit of Nice just days later when it announced a deal to become the club’s main sponsor for the 2019-20 season. Ineos, which is owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man, already controls Swiss Challenge League club FC Lausanne-Sport, which plays in the second tier of the country’s league system.

The Autorité noted this interest in its ruling, but stated that it has cleared the Nice takeover without any special conditions. The regulator said in a statement: “The European Commission also has not had the opportunity to examine such a transaction from a competition law perspective. The Autorité has therefore focused on identifying the relevant markets in which football clubs operate in France.

“The Autorité has focused in particular on the market for the transfer of professional players, which had never before been defined by decision-making practice. Following the investigation, it considers that there is a sizeable market, at least European and even international, in which the various professional football clubs compete to attract the best players.

“Professional players made their determination in this regard on the basis of (i) net remuneration, (ii) club reputation, (iii) the duration of the contract, (iv) the competitiveness of the national championship and (v) the international competitions in which the club participates. The Autorité has also taken into consideration the sports marketing market, which is increasingly international in scope.

“The Autorité found that after the transaction the new entity will have only a very limited position in the various sectors of activity of professional football clubs, and in particular in the market for the transfer of professional players, and therefore cleared the acquisition without any specific conditions.”

Ineos has been stepping up its investment in sport recently. In March, the company bought the UCI WorldTour cycling outfit formerly known as Team Sky, while in May it announced that it would be sponsoring a new attempt by Kenyan athletics great Eliud Kipchoge to break the two-hour marathon barrier.