Fanatics scores major expansion of NHL apparel deal

Dive Brief:

  • Athletic apparel retailer Fanatics is expanding its longstanding relationship with the National Hockey League starting with the 2017-18 season, becoming the official manufacturer of a broad range of NHL apparel and headwear including replica jerseys and Stanley Cup merchandise.
  • Fanatics also wil operate on-site retail stores at marquee NHL events, power the NHL’s auction website and continue in its current capacity as the league's e-commerce operator. In addition, Fanatics Branded apparel will be sold on shop.NHL.com, across the Fanatics online network and through individual NHL team retail operations and other merchants.

  • To support its growing NHL relationship, Fanatics also is setting up a wholesale sales division covering both the U.S. and Canada, as well as establishing a new physical local presence in Canada that will include dedicated staff and a fulfillment center.  

Dive Insight:

This broadly expanded agreement is not coming out of nowhere. Fanatics has had a relationship with the NHL since 2005 as an e-commerce seller, but of late it also has been aggressive in trying to scoop up broader licensing and additional responsibilities with several pro sports leagues. Less than two weeks ago, reports surfaced of broad licensing agreement between Fanatics and Major League Baseball, and at that time there was also speculation that Fanatics was about to announce a new deal with the NHL.

And so here it is. The aggressive efforts Fanatics has been making are starting to pay off, and the deals themselves are very interesting and atypical of what a pro league might normally award to a company primarily known as an online retailer. Not only does this arrangement involve physical retail stores and efforts, but it gives Fanatics manufacturing responsibility and a large amount of logistics responsibility.

It's the sort of vertically-stacked partnership that Fanatics reportedly has been developing for a while, and which could radically alter pro sports licensing, manufacturing, retail and shipping relationships. There will be a lot of pressure on Fanatics to execute on many levels, and not just for one pro sports league, but probably several.

If this makes Fanatics sound like a juggernaut, it very well may be that. Aside from the NHL and MLB, Fanatics forged a deal with NASCAR last year, and also has experimented with using Uber as an on-demand delivery partner for NFL merchandise. Fanatics also hired a new CFO earlier this year, and has been widely considered to be an IPO candidate.

Competitors certainly will be watching closely, and potential partners who think they can help Fanatics deliver on various aspects of its new agreements will be lining up by the dozen. It's game on, and hopefully Fanatics is ready.

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