SoftBank Invests $1B In Sports eCommerce

Jacksonville, Florida-based sports apparel eCommerce retailer Fanatics recently closed a $1 billion venture capital round, according to news reports from Reuters. The funding round was led by Japanese multinational telecommunications provider SoftBank Group Corp’s Vision Fund and will see Fanatics valued at $4.5 billion.

Fanatics sells licensed fan merchandise for U.S. professional sports leagues — including those associated with the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) — as well as college sports teams and the Manchester United and Real Madrid soccer teams in the U.K. and Spain.

Items available on the eCommerce platform span a wide array of licensed apparel, including t-shirts and replica sports jerseys, with jersey sales making up much of Fanatics’ revenue. The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Doug Mack, noted the SoftBank funding would be used to further expand Fanatics’ reach into international markets. The sports retail business is also looking to leverage SoftBank’s expertise in Asia to help with that international growth.

“We’ve only just scratched the surface of the global opportunity,” Mack said. “Soccer is the world’s [number one] sport, and then there’s cricket. You’ll see us extend our rights to international leagues.”

SoftBank’s private equity fund is the largest in the world at $93 billion. The majority of the $1 billion accrued in the Fanatics funding round will come from SoftBank, though the MLB and NFL were also participants. While most of the funding will be set aside for international expansion, some will be used to hire additional data scientists, designers and engineers, Reuters reported.

Though Mack noted Fanatics has a strong technological foundation, allowing it to design and manufacture on a tight schedule, the company is not considering an initial public offering (IPO) or sale at this time. The sports retail business has, however, made purchases. The company acquired branded lifestyle apparel company VF Corporation’s sports licensing group — owner of the Majestic Athletic sportswear company — as of April 2017.

Fanatics recently put its quick production technology to use to benefit Hurricane Harvey relief efforts by designing, producing and shipping sports team-approved “Houston Strong” clothing items for each of Houston’s local sports teams — all in less than three days. Money raised from “Houston Strong” clothing and jersey sales will be donated to Hurricane Harvey victims.



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