PUMA have stopped offering brand new Rangers strips for sale as questions arose over whether the sportswear manufacturer has the rights to trade the merchandise.

Last month, Rangers withdrew exclusive rights to use the club's trademarks given to its merchandising joint venture with Sports Direct, set up under the previous Ibrox management.

It was a move that put pressure on Sports Direct supremo Mike Ashley to dismantle the Rangers Retail joint venture for selling the club's merchandise.

Evening Times:

It is understood that new Rangers strips could not be sold because of Rangers' move to terminate the merchandising contracts and was expected to provoke a so-far unforthcoming legal challenge.

It was expected that supporters would effectively be denied the chance to buy the brand new replica Puma-designed kit that Rangers will wear in action in the coming months from the Ibrox Megastore.

But it emerged that Puma had the 2016/17 strips had become available for sale on its website, while unavailable through Sports Direct or through the Megastore.

Evening Times:

But yesterday afternoon the strips became unavailable for sale on the Puma website. And a few hours later the new Rangers kit sales page had been removed completely.

When some fans inquired what had happened they were told by sales representatives that they might be available soon.

One fan was told: "The shirt is unavailable at this time....

"Unfortunately we are unable to provide a specific date when the item will become available, but we are hoping that this will be in the not too distant future."

Evening Times:

Both Puma and Rangers declined to comment on the situation.

It is understood that the strips became unavailable after the questions over rights to sell the new strips were directed at the company yesterday by some fans.

Puma became the "official supplier and licensee of replica merchandise for the club" in a five-year kit deal announced by Rangers in February, 2013.

In a statement produced at the time, when Charles Green was chief executive Rangers said: "The agreement which will commence at the start of season 2013/14 will see Rangers wearing the Puma brand on all of the club’s team kit, replica kit, training wear and equipment.

Evening Times:

"The partnership with PUMA complements the club’s joint venture with retail giants Sports Direct."

The Rangers board said it was cancelling the merchandise deal with Rangers Retail Limited, controlled by Sports Direct unhappy at the return they were getting on the venture. It was understood to mean only 4p from every pound spent in the Ibrox store is banked by the Old Firm outfit.

The trademarks agreements were a cornerstone of Rangers' merchandising joint venture with Ashley's company confirmed by then chief executive Charles Green in August 2012.

Evening Times:

The club has already triggered a seven-year notice period required to cancel all contractual ties with Sports Direct.

Fans group Sons of Struth has refused to call off its boycott of club merchandise which was launched in protest against the deal with the Mike Ashley company, until Rangers announce an acceptable merchandise deal.

Evening Times:

Craig Houston of Sons of Struth said: "We were quite happy with the board's statement a few weeks ago and they did say that they would keep plans updated if there was any change and there has been no update so we can only take it there is nothing in place to supply any merchandise through any avenue just now."

The Rangers Retail set up has been a long-lasting area of controversy and at the end of 2014 the Rangers Supporters Trust launched an alternative shirt for fans as they took on Mr Ashley - and said all profits would be ploughed back into an increased shareholding in their club.

The relationship between Dave King and Mike Ashley has grown increasingly fractious after a string of courtroom battles in which the Sports Direct billionaire failed to have the Rangers chairman jailed for contempt of court as the Newcastle United tycoon tried to prevent the club from revealing details about the Rangers Retail deal.

Evening Times:

The high court judge Mr Justice Peter Smith described Sports Direct’s efforts as a “ridiculous piece of litigation”.

During the litigation Mr Justice Peter Smith questioned the length of the seven year notice period in terminating the controversial deal, and then expressed surprise at the terms of the confidentiality agreement covering it revealing that binds Rangers and not Sports Direct.

The previous 10-year licence agreement with sports retailer JJB Sports rubber stamped in 2006, was worth a minimum of £48 million to the club. The club got an initial payment of £18 million when they launched an Umbro home kit and were guaranteed a minimum annual royalty of £3 million in each year of the licence.