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How Fanatics is flipping the trading card market on its head

The company has already reinvented the market for sports apparel. Now Fanatics is remaking the rest of sports fandom.

How Fanatics is flipping the trading card market on its head
[Photo: Heami Lee; Prop stylist: Miako Katoh]

This story is part of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2022. Explore the full list of companies that are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture.

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Fanatics already conquered sports apparel. Now the online retailer is remaking sports fandom. In August, it secured trading card rights for Major League Baseball, the NFL Players Association, and the NBA—gaining a foothold in the $13 billion trading card industry. It then kicked off 2022 by acquiring leading card brand Topps. Fanatics is poised to further transform sports memorabilia via its new NFT business unit, Candy Digital. After signing an exclusive partnership with the MLB in June, it launched several collections, including a Lou Gehrig NFT that reportedly sold (to Tyler Winklevoss) for more than $70,000. Fanatics is also moving into sports betting: It applied for a license in New York last year and hired former FanDuel CEO Matt King to run Fanatics Betting and Gaming. “We’ve gone from one business to four businesses over the course of the last year,” says Michael Rubin, Fanatics’ founder and CEO. “We built the most transactionally driven digital sports brand, and we’ve got a database of more than 80 million customers [around the globe, buying licensed team merchandise]. The ability to use those assets to help us build the leading digital sports platform, it’s really exciting.” In early March, the company raised another $1.5 billion, giving it a $27 billion valuation and even more resources as Fanatics moves aggressively into these new categories of the sports experience. On March 8, Fanatics Collectibles debuted a new brand devoted to entertainment and culture, called zerocool, starting with a limited-edition set of Veefriends cards. They use a blind Dutch auction model to determine the ultimate price. Ask Rubin about Fanatics’ criteria for evaluating opportunities, and it’s rather simple. “How can we innovate for the fan?” he says. “If we can’t answer that, we’re out.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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