NFL, MLB, players unions lead latest investment in Fanatics

NFL, MLB, players unions lead latest investment in Fanatics

A detailed photo of the Fanatics apparel displayed at NFL Hospitality during the 2018 NFL Annual Meetings at the Ritz Carlton Orlando, Great Lakes on March 26, 2018 in Orlando, Florida.

Mark Brown | Getty Images

The NFL, other major sports leagues, players unions and team owners are leading the latest round of investment in Fanatics, the rapidly growing online platform company.

All told, the latest investment totals $ 1.5 billion. The NFL kicked in the biggest portion, $ 320 million. Fanatics is valued at $ 27 billion.

The NFL Players Association also made an investment. Other investors include Major League Baseball and its players union, as well as the National Hockey League.

Joseph Tsai, the Alibaba co-founder and Brooklyn Nets owner, and the Qatar Investment Authority, owner of the Paris Saint-Germain soccer team, are also investors in this latest round.

This latest financing round continues the trend of leagues and players’ associations wanting a slice of the pie. Similarly, the NBA recently took a 3% stake in SportRadar.

Florida-based Fanatics was founded in 2011 by Michael Rubin, co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils. It has exclusive licensing deals with the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and colleges and universities to make and sell official team merchandise.

The company has ambitions beyond just merchandise. Earlier this year, the company moved into the trading card industry and acquired Topps trading cards for $ 500 million. Fanatics’ trading card entity is now valued at $ 10 billion after a $ 350 million round of funding last September.

Leagues, players’ associations and team owners now own approximately 10% of Fanatics. The NFL and MLB first invested $ 150 million in Fanatics in 2017. CNBC previously reported other investors in the most recent round of funding include Fidelity, BlackRock and Michael Dell’s MSD Partners.

“This investment not only reflects our experience having worked with Michael and the team at Fanatics for a number of years but our belief that the future is very bright for this company,” an NFL spokesperson told CNBC regarding the latest investment round.

Last year, Fanatics launched Candy Digital, which sells nonfungible tokens or NFTs. The company also owns half of the hat retailer Lids Sports Group, which it acquired in 2019.

Fanatics is now looking to break into the sports gambling space with the launch of an online sportsbook. Former FanDuel CEO Matt King is leading the charge on that.

With all of this growth comes speculation about a potential initial public offering, but Fanatics is holding fast for now.

“While an IPO is clearly an available option to us, there is no update on any timeline,” a company spokesperson said. “Our focus remains on expanding the business and building the leading digital sports platform over the next decade and beyond.”

Fanatics is a two-time CNBC Disruptor 50 company. Sign up for our weekly, original newsletter that goes beyond the annual Disruptor 50 list, offering a closer look at private companies like Fanatics that continue to innovate across every sector of the economy.

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