Fanatics founder Michael Rubin has built his $31 billion sports retail giant by looking at potential opportunities through the lens of three questions: Is it good for fans? Is it good for Fanatics partners? Is it a big enough business opportunity?
This is what sparked Fanatics’ blockbuster move into sports trading cards and collectibles in 2021, with the launch of its Fanatics Collectibles division, acquiring the trading cards rights for Major League Baseball, MLB Players Association, the National Football League Players Association, and the National Basketball Association, then buying up Topps, the most recognizable brand in cards.
Now the company has hired former Snap and Google exec Nick Bell to be CEO of Fanatics Live, a new business division under the Fanatics umbrella that will focus on live content-based commerce, starting with the Fanatics Collectibles business.
According to Insider Intelligence, livestream commerce in China generated more than $300 billion in 2021 sales, approximately 12% of all e-commerce sales, and that is expected to approach 20% in this year. Meanwhile in the U.S., that percentage is less than 1%. While there have been experiments in live shopping by companies and platforms like TikTok, Walmart, and others, Bell says he joined Fanatics because it has a unique strategic advantage.
“If you look at the global sports trading card market, it’s $44 billion, and expected to be nearing $100 billion by 2027,” says Bell. “And it’s not just the size of the market, but the core principle behind it, which is the intersection of passion and community. So this is going to be a place where people go not just to discover and be entertained, but also to buy new products while engaging with like-minded people.”
Bell will report to Fanatics Collectibles CEO Mike Mahan, and his team is tasked with building commerce capabilities focused around curated, engaging content, and personality-driven entertainment for fans tied to livestream shopping opportunities in the collectibles space.
Bell says that sports cards is already at the forefront of live commerce in the U.S., and Fanatics has the infrastructure to make this even more successful. “We have the benefit of Fanatics’ world-class e-commerce platform and product, and if we layer on top of that, this community and innovation, we feel there is a huge opportunity to tap into a market that is already very community-minded,” says Bell. “We see a big opportunity in taking the community of the hobby shop, where people not only go to buy products but hang out, and translating that to an online audience.”
The company says that there may be future opportunities for Fanatics Live to expand into other parts of the Fanatics ecosystem, but its focus in the near term is for Collectibles, with work expected to launch by midyear.
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