Deal: Fanatics Buys Topps Trading Cards Business For $500M
Fanatics is best known as the biggest online retailer of sports merchandise in the US. After conquering the sports merchandise world, the company has sought to diversify into other sports-Esque businesses such as trading cards, which it began last year. Barely a year into the trading cards business, Fanatics has made a bang in the industry by purchasing one of the leading incumbents.
There’s no better, flashy way for Fanatics to mark its debut in the industry than buying the biggest producer of sports-themed trading cards. Fanatics has bought Topps‘ trading cards and collectibles business, a strategic move to give its newly-formed trading cards business a foothold in the industry despite being a new player.
Notably, Fanatics is only buying Topps’ trading cards and collectibles business, which is the primary business, but not the confectionary and gift card businesses it obviously doesn’t need. The price Fanatics paid wasn’t formally disclosed, but the Wall Street Journal reports it’s $500mn. Fanatics bought the business from owners Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, and private-equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners.
- Last April, Topps had agreed to debut on the public markets through a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC). However, it called off that merger in a few months, after it lost its contract with the Major League Baseball (MLB) to Fanatics. Fanatics later struck long-term contracts with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), becoming a formidable Topps rival as a result.
- Fanatics offered equity to the major leagues to woo them, and it worked. The company’s trading card business last year raised $350mn at a $10bn valuation from a group of investors, including entertainment giant Endeavor Group and private-equity firm Silver Lake.
- With Topps, Fanatics has gotten additional licensing partnerships with the Formula 1, Major League Soccer, UEFA and Bundesliga. Also, it’s now permitted to begin producing MLB trading cards rather than by 2026 as agreed with its initial deal. We can see why the private-held e-commerce company coughed up big money to buy Topps’ business.
Fanatics is an interesting company, to say. It launched in 1995 as an online retailer of sports merchandise at a time when e-commerce was still in its infacy. It was sold to GSI Commerce, an e-commerce company led by entrepreneur Michael Rubin, for nearly $300mn in 2011. Rubin, in turn, sold GSI Commerce to eBay for $2.4bn in that same year but retained some assets eBay didn’t want, including Fanatics. He then grew Fanatics into a major e-commerce player valued at $18bn from its last funding round.
Fanatics’ trading cards foray is primarily Rubin’s brainwork. A well-connected entrepreneur, he’s socialized and wooed his way into exclusive partnerships with major sports teams and leagues to get an edge over competitors. That strategy worked very well for sports merchandise, and he’s replicating it in the trading cards business to apparent success.
- In addition to trading cards, Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin has also set its sights on sports betting. Last June, he hired the outgoing CEO of sports betting giant FanDuel. Shortly after, rumors began swirling that Fanatics was shopping for a sportsbook operator to jumpstart its sport betting business.
- Fanatics also recently formed a separate nonfungible tokens (NFTs) business named Candy Digital. It was valued at $1.5bn after raising $100mn in funding last October from a group of investors including NFL Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA), and crypto mogul Mike Novogratz.