In December The athletics It highlights coaches, athletes and other individuals who have made a significant impact in the fields of American sports, as well as sports business, media and culture. Michael Rubin, our perennial sports business honoree, is the CEO of Fanatics, which is poised to become the “Amazon of sports shopping” in sports apparel, collectibles and more. The full schedule is here.
Love or loathe Fanatics Inc., the premier retailer of collegiate and pro sports apparel and merchandise. Merchandise
That’s why owner and CEO Michael Rubin. The athleticsThe 2022 Business Person of the Year topped a field of contenders including Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, Amazon executives Jay Marin and Marie Donoghue and others.
In the past year, Rubin has ushered Fanatics into the sports crowdfunding space, expanded its swimwear business with new deals and acquisitions, and set the stage for a move into sports betting.
What particularly stands out for Rubin is his two-pronged masterstroke to quickly dominate the trading card business in the ongoing sports collectibles movement.
In the year By 2021, Fanatics has surprised the industry by creating future long-term licensing deals for trading cards with Major League Baseball and its players union, the NBA and its association, and the NFL union (and soon, the NFL itself).
That rattled longtime industry kingpin Topps, which suddenly found itself facing the loss of key licenses as it attempted a SPAC deal to boost its value. The Fanatics card move has angered rival Panini, which has dominated NBA cards for years.
It was last January that Fanatics completed what seemed inevitable at the time – buying Topps at a discounted price of $500 million to dominate the domestic business card market, which has grown into a multi-billion dollar retail and physical and digital cards business.
“This will be their industry. The success of modern cards and new releases will be on their shoulders,” said Ken Goldin, founder of Goldin Auctions, one of the card industry’s premier auction houses. “They made a desperate bet.”
The company announced this summer that it plans to start selling licensed college business cards next year.
While Fanatics has critics in other parts of the business, Topps’ stewardship has so far flown under the radar. Golden is optimistic.
“I expect them to do an excellent job and deliver a superior product to collectors, but at a time when they’re doing it, they feel like they’re getting value,” he said. “I would say the consensus of the industry is to be optimistic and wait and see. I don’t think there is much pessimism.
There is concern that the Fanatics could cheat the big card business, but Goldin thinks the risk is low.
You are the name everyone knows. The danger is lack of creativity,” he said.
Rubin entered the digital crowdfunding space last year with a controlling investment in Candy Digital, an NFT platform with MLB and WWE. However, the continued failure of collectible NFTs and the collapse of the cryptocurrency space this year has led to layoffs in the tech sector, including an undisclosed number recently at Candy Digital.
Outside of cards and collectibles, Rubin and Fanatics have made several business decisions in 2022 to strengthen relationships with current partners.
In March, Fanatics signed a long-term deal with WWE to handle its e-commerce business and create new licensed merchandise, trading cards and NFTs.
Over the summer, the company said it would begin producing most Nike Inc. pro apparel for major colleges starting in 2024, while Nike itself continues to make on-field gear for players.
In the collegiate name-image-matching space, the Fanatics started a football jersey program with more than 4,000 players.
These deals help Rubin and Fanatics further strengthen their presence in the licensed sports apparel and merchandise sector.
“He’s definitely a big player in the space. The apparel business has gone direct to consumer and he owns it. Larry Mann, CEO of Revolution, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency and former vice president of sales at ESPN, is the Amazon of sports buying.
Fanatics recently completed another round of fundraising aimed at funding future expansion and acquisitions. At the time, it was $700 million that boosted Fanatics’ valuation as a business to $31 billion, up from $27 billion after a $1.5 billion investment earlier this year.
Three years ago, Fanatics had sales of $4.5 billion. The company projects $8 billion in revenue by 2023.
What if Fanatics’ core business — the e-commerce and brick-and-mortar sale of licensed sports apparel and accessories — expands into other segments and other wallet concerns for consumers?
Matt Powell, vice president and senior sports industry analyst at market research and consulting firm NPD Group Inc., said consumers continue to buy jerseys and sports apparel.
“The e-commerce side of the business should continue to be the best part,” he said. “Assuming the (consumer spending) trend continues, the future looks good for licensed sports brands.”
And Fanatics is particularly well placed because of how the business is structured, Powell added. That includes being a licensor, manufacturer and retailer online and in stores.
“That’s the magic of the model for them — touching every aspect of the process,” Powell said.
Radicals is said to have a customer database of over 80 million consumers.
To bolster its business, Fanatics in February paid a reported $250 million for popular sportswear brand Mitchell & Ness in a deal that included notable investors such as Jay-Z, Maverick Carter, Meek Mill and Lil Baby.
Radicals previously bought a stake in ball cap retailer Leeds, which, like Mitchell & Ness, operates as its own independent brand.
Next, Rubin is set to enter the sports betting space with BetFanatics, which is expected to launch in early 2023 and could be in up to 20 states by fall.
In October, Rubin sold a 10 percent stake in Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the corporate parent of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils, to clear legal and regulatory slates for entering gambling and other sports deals.
As gambling has become widely legalized in recent years, with more states beginning to allow it, it’s a busy new frontier, but it’s a crowded place. How Fanatics operates its licensed betting business and how it differentiates itself from other betting companies will shake up over the next two years.
After the bet, it’s unclear what the Fanatics might do next. the media? Issuing a ticket?
Contrary to Alexander the Great’s supposed lament that there is no world left to conquer, Rubin and the Fanatics believe there is more work to be done and want to be all things to all sports consumers.
“I like his comment that he wants to be everything to the consumer,” Mann said. “All the emotional points of the sports consumer, he wants to touch. I find that really unique.”
Explosives, of course, face the same risks as any company – oversupply, recession, consumer habits, dud products, etc.
The company is said to be cash flow positive, so new investment rounds are for mergers and acquisitions rather than funding.
“We are not privy to his finances to know he has overextended himself. “I don’t think so,” said Mann. Unless he overextends himself, I don’t see much danger.
Rubin, 50, got his start in the business as a teenager selling used ski equipment from his parents’ Philadelphia home, and later branched out into e-commerce in the 1990s as a reseller and turnkey online retailer for large companies.
Rubin, who was not available for comment, said: He founded Fanatics in 2011 after another company sold it to eBay for $2.4 billion and bought back some of the company, including Fanatics. The business owner’s company is based in New York while the day-to-day operations are conducted in Jacksonville, Florida.
Forbes estimates that he is worth $11.3 billion. Outside of Fanatics, he is the chairman of the REFORM Alliance, which seeks to reform the criminal justice system and end prejudice.
Rubin, who briefly attended Villanova University before building the businesses, has made many strong connections both in and outside of sports during his career, bolstering the growth of the Fanatics.
One is Dallas Mavericks owner and longtime entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who has become a fan of what Rubin has done with the Fanatics.
“Michael has done an amazing job building the Fanatics. He is on a mission to reshape and take over all aspects of sports branding and is well positioned to do so,” Cuban said in an email. “He has the drive, the EQ, the brains and the focus. He is an amazing entrepreneur.”
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