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Michael Rubin Turning Fanatics into ‘Sports Amazons’: Sports Business Person of the Year

in December, athletic highlights the coaches, athletes, and other figures who have made the greatest impact not only in the American sports we cover, but also in sports business, media, and culture. Next in the series are sports business winners. Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin is becoming “his Amazon for sports buying” with a wide range of sports apparel, collectibles, and other ventures. See the full schedule here.

Love it or hate it, Fanatics Inc has evolved over the past year and beyond to become a major player in the sports industry beyond its core business of licensing apparel and merchandise for college and professional sports.

That’s why owner and CEO Michael Rubin athleticThe 2022 Sports Business Person of the Year has topped the field of nominees including Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, Amazon executives Jay Mullin and Marie Donoghue, and more.

Over the past year, Rubin has led Fanatics into the sports collectibles space, expanded its core apparel business with new deals and acquisitions, and poised to enter sports gambling.

Rubin’s focus is on the two-pronged masterstroke he’s made to quickly dominate the trading card business amidst the ongoing sports goods boom.

In 2021, Fanatics surprised the industry with future long-term licensing deals for trading cards with Major League Baseball and its players union, the NBA and its union, the NFL union (and most recently the NFL itself).

This has undermined Topps, the long-time king of the industry, in terms of functionality. Topps was trying to sign a contract with his SPAC to increase its value when he suddenly found himself facing a major license loss. The Fanatics card manipulation also hit rival Panini, who has dominated his NBA card for years.

It was this past January that Fanatics completed what seemed inevitable — buying Topps at a discounted price of $500 million to dominate the domestic trading card market. . digital card.

“This is going to be their industry,” said Ken Goldin, founder of Goldin Auctions, one of the card industry’s leading auction sites. Did.”

The company announced plans for a licensed college trading card this summer, starting next year.

Fanatics has been criticized in other business segments, but Topps’ management has so far remained low profile. Goldin is optimistic.

“I expect them to do a great job and provide collectors with an excellent product, but I feel they are getting value.” I don’t think there’s a lot of pessimism.”

There is a risk that Fanatics will ruin much of the card business, but Goldin sees the threat as low.

“You’re a name that everyone knows. The risk is lack of creativity,” he said.

Rubin entered the digital collectibles space last year with a dominant investment in Candy Digital, an NFT platform that does business with MLB and WWE. But the ensuing collapse of collectible NFTs and the implosion of the cryptocurrency space this year has resulted in layoffs across the tech sector, including a recent undisclosed number at Candy Digital.

Beyond cards and collectibles, Rubin and Fanatics have made many business decisions in 2022 to deepen their relationships with current partners.

In March, Fanatics signed a long-term contract with WWE to handle their e-commerce business and create new licensed merchandise, trading cards, and NFTs.

Over the summer, the company said it would begin producing most of Nike Inc.’s fan apparel for major colleges starting in 2024, but Nike itself continues to make on-field gear for its players.

Fanatics launched a football jersey program for over 4,000 players in the college name-and-image similarity space.

These deals move Rubin and Fanatics to the top of the licensed sports apparel and merchandise sector.

“He’s definitely a big player in this space. The business of apparel has become a direct-to-consumer business and he owns it.” Larry Mann, executive vice president and former ESPN vice president of sales, said:

Fanatics also recently closed another funding round aimed at financing future expansion and acquisitions. This time, he pushed Fanatics’ valuation to $31 billion at $700 million, up from $27 billion after a $1.5 billion investment round earlier this year. Did.

Three years ago, Fanatics was valued at $4.5 billion. The company expects him to hit $8 billion in 2023 revenue.

What about e-commerce and brick-and-mortar sales of licensed sports apparel and items, Fanatics’ core business expanding into other segments amid inflation and other consumer wallet concerns?

Consumers continue to buy jerseys and sports apparel despite the economic uncertainty, said Matt Powell, vice president and senior sports industry analyst at market research and advisory firm NPD Group.

“The e-commerce side of the business should continue to be the best part,” he said. “Assuming trends (in consumer spending) continue, I think the future looks good for sanctioned sports products.”

Fanatics is particularly well-positioned because of how the business was set up, Powell added. This includes being a licensee, manufacturer and retailer both online and in stores.

“It’s the magic of the model for them to touch every aspect of the process,” Powell said.

Fanatics reportedly has a customer database of over 80 million consumers.

Joel Embiid and Michael Rubin

Rubin, 76ers’ Joel Embiid and rapper Meek Mill during a 2018 playoff game. (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

To bolster its business, Fanatics invested $250 million in prestige sports apparel brand Mitchell & Ness in February in a deal that included celebrity investors including Jay-Z, Maverick Carter, Meek Mill and Lil Baby. reportedly paid for

Fanatics previously purchased a stake in ball cap retailer Lids, which like Mitchell & Ness operates as its own standalone brand.

Next, Rubin is stepping into the sports betting space with BetFanatics. This he plans to launch in early 2023 and roll out to up to 20 states by the fall.

In October, Rubin sold a 10% stake in Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils, to clear the statutes and enter gambling and other sports deals.

Gambling has been widely legalized in recent years and since more states began allowing it, it’s a busy new frontier, but it’s also a crowded space. It will become clear in the next few years whether it will be differentiating.

It’s unclear what the fanatic will do next after making the bet. media? Ticketing?

Unlike Alexander the Great, who supposedly cried at the thought that there was no world left to conquer, Rubin and the Fanatics believed there was more to be done, and that there was something for every sports consumer. I want to become

“I like his comment about wanting to be everything to consumers,” Mann said. “All the passions of the sports consumer, he wants to touch on. I think that’s really unique.”

Fanatics, of course, face risks just like any other business – overexpansion, recession, changing consumer habits, unexploded products, and more.

The company is said to be cash flow positive, which is why new investment rounds are aimed at mergers and acquisitions rather than funding.

“We’re not involved in his finances to find out if he’s overextended himself. I don’t think so,” Mann said. “As long as he doesn’t overextend himself, I don’t think there’s much risk.”

Rubin, 50, started a business selling used ski gear from his parents’ home in Philadelphia as a teenager, and by the late 1990s was a turnkey online retailer and provider of retail for large corporations. entered e-commerce as a merchant.

Rubin, who was not available for comment, founded Fanatics after selling another company to eBay for $2.4 billion in 2011, then buying back part of it, including Fanatics. The business’s holding company is located in New York, and day-to-day operations are conducted in Jacksonville, Florida.

Forbes estimates his fortune at $11.3 billion. Outside of Fanatics, he co-chairs the REFORM Alliance, which seeks to reform the criminal justice system and abolish unfavorable laws.

A brief stint at Villanova University before building his business, Rubin has forged countless strong connections both inside and outside the sport during his career that have helped Fanatics grow.

One is Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and longtime entrepreneur.

“Michael has done a great job building Fanatics. “He has the drive, the EQ, the brains and the focus to do it. He’s a great entrepreneur.”



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(Illustration: Sean Riley / athleticDavid Dow / NBAE via Getty Images)

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