Pro sports teams can now create merchandise that responds to fan demand near instantaneously, thanks to online retailer Fanatics. The company offers a new low-bandwidth shopping site that works in stadiums with poor cell service, and a platform for predicting demand using myriad digital cues. As a result, NFL merch sales rose 50% last year and Fanatics won deals with major European soccer clubs and esports’ Overwatch League. Here’s how goals become gear:
1. Instant Replay
The Fanatics platform combines social listening, game data, and a pro team’s website activity to anticipate what people will want. When Khalil Mack scored a surprise touchdown in his first game as a Chicago Bear, Fanatics was able to generate a Mack jersey and put it on sale by halftime. It sold more in an hour than Tom Brady’s did all that day.
Fanatics can respond quickly because leagues and teams give the company control of their e-commerce shops, allowing Fanatics to create and re-prioritize webpage layouts even as a customer is browsing. If an unlikely player is having a big game, Fanatics can also blast out new gear via social and email marketing, targeting people whom it knows are fans. “What if that product wasn’t available for two weeks? It’s [now] a completely different story,” says CEO Doug Mack (no relation to the Bears linebacker).
3. Calling Audibles
Fanatics has upended the old model of having to predict—before a season even starts—which teams and players will be most popular. Instead, it prints to order until scale merits mass production. So when the Green Bay Packers finished next to last in their division—despite preseason predictions that they would win the Super Bowl—Fanatics wasn’t left with a pile of unsold jerseys.
4. Option Play
During the LeBron James free-agent sweepstakes last summer, Fanatics had blank jerseys ready to go in the cities courting him. Once James chose Los Angeles, the company promoted images of his new jersey online and manufactured fan orders locally as they came in. In three hours, sales were 600% greater than when he rejoined Cleveland, in 2014.
5. Hitting the Numbers
More than 50% of a championship team’s merchandise sales take place within the first 72 hours after the win. To meet this demand and maximize fulfillment, Fanatics enlists local printers and even sets up pop-up shops along victory-parade routes. For the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup victory last June, the company teamed with Uber to deliver orders. Fanatics is able to drive sales, Mack says, “by tapping into that excitement.”