On August 21, 2019, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) unconditionally cleared the acquisition of the SASP Olympic Gymnast Club of Nice (“OGC Nice”) by Ineos,[1] thereby issuing the first merger decision in Europe relating to a professional football club.

Ineos is a multinational chemicals company based in the United Kingdom that also owns a number of participations in the sports sector, including Swiss football club Lausanne-Sport. OGC Nice is a professional sports company created to manage all of the Nice football club’s activities linked to its participation in for-profit sporting events.

In its decision, and in line with a market test in which OGC Nice’s ten largest competitors participated, the FCA identified for the first time a specific product market for the transfer of professional football players, in which football clubs compete to recruit the best players. Although the exact geographic scope of the market was left open, the FCA noted that competition between football clubs takes place at least on a European-wide basis.

Given this market definition, the FCA held that Ineos’ share in the market for the transfer of professional football players would be extremely limited (below 1%), and unconditionally cleared the transaction—after having granted an exceptional derogation to the standstill obligation so that OGC Nice and Ineos could recruit football players before the FCA’s clearance decision.

[1]              French Competition Authority, Decision No. 19-DCC-160 of August 21, 2019 regarding the acquisition of the SASP Olympic Gymnastic Club of Nice by Ineos.