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Fanatics Wants to Grow Fanatics, er, the Hobby

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

Since Fanatics took over the licenses for future MLB, NFL, and NBA card production, talk has revolved around the corporate giant "growing the hobby." There's no doubt Fanatics wants to - needs to - grow the hobby. It's part of the plan for them to go public.

Fanatics' Growth Plan for the Sports Card Hobby

Fanatics is unlike any of its predecessors. It’s not just a trading card company like Panini, the former Topps, or Upper Deck. It has businesses in gambling, clothes and uniform manufacturing, online retail, sports card production, and a digital breaking platform. It also has an auction house and a vault by extension of PWCC.

Wants to Grow Fanatics

Sports Gambling

What's curious is the company's foray into gambling. I didn't know until recently, but Fanatics has opened physical gambling sites at the Washington Commanders' FedEx Field, the Cleveland Guardians' Progressive Field, and a sportsbook across the street from the Columbus Blue Jackets' Nationwide Arena.

Its gambling competitors like FanDuel, Caesars, and DraftKings have long done this at sporting venues.

Fanatics Betting & Gaming CEO Matt King has gone on record to say Fanatics' advantage is in its 95 million existing customers. It's those customers that Fanatics will market to grow its gambling division. Yes, that includes its huge customer base from its apparel business, but it also includes card collectors.

Of course, the trojan horse for the hobby is the sports card-breaking site Fanatics Live. By building a digital platform for card collectors built on a premise, not unlike slot machines, breakers can seamlessly transition to Fanatics' emerging gambling digital platform. (We can get into what breaking does to the economics of the hobby, but I digress.)

Gambling Demographics

And what a time to do this. According to the American Gaming Association (AGA), sports betting revenue (on the books) will reach nearly $11 billion this year, up from $7.5 billion in 2022 to $4.29 billion in 2021. The increasing legalization of sports gambling at the state level and the ease of gambling on cell phones contribute to the upswing.

The rise in gambling addictions, particularly among young men, has been widely reported in the media - both in “liberal” and “conservative” outlets. Breaking, not coincidentally, is also largely populated by a younger demographic within the card-collecting hobby.

Corporate talking heads will say that most online gamblers make "modest bets" and mostly seek entertainment. While this may be true, it also comes with collateral damage. Fanatics is looking to milk every consumer in its database to grow Fanatics.

Fanatics, the Card Company

CEO Michael Rubin will continue to throw splashy events like the one in early October at the New York MLB Store. At the event, GOAT Tom Brady appeared alongside Rubin wearing a Montreal Expos jersey for a trading card event. The event made headlines, fueled speculation, and brought attention to sports cards.

Yes, events with Tom Brady's presence might grow the hobby, but it's important to remember that something bigger is at play. Please make no mistake: For Fanatics, sports cards are a means to an end and not the end, as we've seen with previous licensees.

The sports card industry is under the control of a different behemoth. So far from Fanatics, we’ve seen multiple productions of 1-of-1 Superfractors, endless lawsuits against its primary competitor, and the card-breaking industry attaining mainstream acceptance.

At this point, I’m surprised Fanatics hasn’t sued Goudey or Sweet Caporal Cigarettes. Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen; things are about to get weirder.


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