Nike, Sanrio, Universal Studios face EU probe over online sales

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU antitrust regulators will investigate whether Nike NKE.N, Comcast's CMCSA.O Universal Studios and Hello Kitty owner Sanrio 8136.T illegally block some cross-border sales or ban certain online retailers from selling their products.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Nike (NKE) is seen in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

The European Commission announced the investigations on Wednesday but did not provide details of the sales practices.

“Nike is aware of the European Commission’s investigation and will continue to cooperate with the authorities,” the company said. Universal Studios and Sanrio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The EU move follows a year-long inquiry by its competition authority into e-commerce practices by 1,900 companies, part of a broader strategy to boost online trade and economic growth.

The inquiry found that some companies allow their products to be sold online only by pre-selected distributors, while others use pricing restrictions and even online sales bans to block certain sellers.

“We are going to examine whether the licensing and distribution practices of these three companies may be denying consumers access to wider choice and better deals in the single market,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

Nike is the license rights holder for Barcelona soccer club merchandise, while Sanrio owns the Hello Kitty brand, which adorn items ranging from stationery to clothing.

Universal Studios holds the rights for movies such as Minions and Despicable Me.

The new investigations would cover similar issues to those of the e-commerce inquiry, but also include licensing of rights and offline distribution.

“They complement the sector inquiry and other pending investigations in so far as they aim to tackle potential barriers to online and offline cross-border trade,” a Commission spokesman said, adding that the case had been brought by the EU executive rather than following a complaint.

In February EU antitrust regulators opened three investigations into online sales of consumer electronics makers, video game makers and hotels.

Last week the EU announced a probe into U.S. clothing company Guess's GES.N cross-border distribution deals. Companies can face fines of up to 10 percent of their global turnover if found guilty of breaking EU antitrust rules.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop/Susan Fenton/Alexander Smith