Fanatics targets expansion with fresh investment

Licensed sports merchandising giant Fanatics has raised $325m (£235.2m/€277.4m) in fresh funding as it seeks to pivot into new sectors such as ticketing.

The Wall Street Journal said new investors in Fanatics include rapper Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and his Roc Nation company, along with existing investors such as Major League Baseball, SoftBank Group’s Vision Fund, and private-equity firm Silver Lake.

The latest funding values Fanatics at $18bn, around triple its valuation from a year ago, as it seeks to diversify from a business model that has focused on online sports apparel and memorabilia sales, along with some retail locations.

The WSJ said Fanatics intends to use the new capital to transform itself into a digital platform with multiple related businesses, such as ticketing and media in addition to sports betting and internet gambling.

“We think we have a structural advantage to building any digital sports business, and online sports betting is no different,” said Michael Rubin, Fanatics’ founder and executive chairman, pointing to the company’s database of 83 million people who have interacted with Fanatics.

SportBusiness.com said Rubin will take over as chief executive of a new, broader Fanatics company to oversee this expansion. Doug Mack will remain as chief executive of Fanatics’ vertical commerce business, as well as adding further responsibilities as vice-chairman for the wider Fanatics group, reporting to Rubin.

In May, the Phoenix Suns NBA basketball team signed a long-term partnership with Fanatics to create an elevated shopping experience for fans. The agreement will see Fanatics operate all physical retail experiences at Footprint Center for all events held at the venue. Fanatics will also operate online and mobile commerce for the Suns.

In February, Fanatics made moves into China through a joint venture formed with Beijing-based private equity firm Hillhouse Capital. Under the deal, the new joint venture is based in Shanghai, localising operations including product design, sourcing and licensing in the Chinese market.