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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Fanatics Steps Into Live Events After Being Tripped Up by Uniforms

  • The new three-day sports festival is modeled somewhat after New York Comic Con.
  • The company continues to face steady criticism for its involvement in MLB’s new uniforms.
Design: Alex Brooks

Fanatics’ live event aspirations are now coming into full reality, just as other parts of the company’s business face ongoing criticism and rising competitive pressures.

The sports merchandising giant announced Thursday plans for the debut of Fanatics Fest NYC, a three-day convention in New York celebrating sports fandom, culture, and collecting. Set for Aug. 16–18 at the Javits Center, the festival marks the first major, company-branded iteration of Fanatics Events, a live and special event division of the company formed last summer. Modeled somewhat after pop culture staples such as the New York Comic Con, Fanatics Fest NYC will feature a series of collectors’ showcases, product releases, and appearances by major stars such as Tom Brady, Peyton and Eli Manning, Derek Jeter, Kevin Durant, and Sabrina Ionescu. 

Fanatics described the event as “residing at the intersection of sports, culture, entertainment, and collecting,” and it follows the company’s recent production of WWE World at WrestleMania, an interactive fan experience created in conjunction with the pro wrestling showcase. 

Given Fanatics’ deep ties with nearly every major North American sports league, ownership of companies such as Topps, Mitchell & Ness, and PWCC Marketplace, moving into live events, particularly around fandom and collecting, is a natural step for the company. It’s also an expansion that mirrors the aspirations of many media companies looking to diversify their revenue models. 

Ongoing Criticism

But the reveal of Fanatics Fest NYC also arrives as there are developments surrounding other parts of the sprawling operation. After rising fan complaints around its merchandising operation, Fanatics has faced nearly two months of relentless criticism for its role in MLB’s much-derided uniforms debuting this season. Fanatics is acting essentially as a subcontractor for Nike, but that hasn’t stopped the rebukes. 

“We’re doing everything as we’ve been told, and we’re getting the s*** kicked out of us,” Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin said in early March at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “So that’s not fun. [The] biggest thing I probably learned is if we’re involved in something, we need to make sure that everybody better be on board. … They got certain players on board, not all players on board.”

Meanwhile, Fanatics’ sports memorabilia business is facing a heightened push from key rival eBay, which earlier this week purchased prominent operator Goldin Auctions. 

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