Fanatics, Alabama Ink Company’s Most Comprehensive College Deal

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Fanatics has signed a wide-ranging partnership with the University of Alabama, the latest deal that covers the company’s rapid expansion into new businesses.

In what it is calling its most comprehensive college partnership, Fanatics will retain its exclusive e-commerce rights to the Crimson Tide, while adding additional rights across fan apparel, trading cards, NFTs and collectibles. Michael Rubin’s company will also open the first team store inside Alabama’s football stadium, a place where the Crimson Tide can sell merchandise and Alabama athletes can leverage new NIL rights.

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“By taking advantage of the expanded breadth of Fanatics’ services, we have put our university and student-athletes in a position to maximize sales and brand exposure with Fanatics’ blue-chip family of brands, including Fanatics Commerce, Topps and Candy Digital,” Alabama AD Greg Byrne said in a statement.

The partnership is a series of separate agreements—apparel, physical retail, etc.—each with its own terms. Financial specifics weren’t released.

It’s the latest in Fanatics’ gradual push into college. The world’s largest seller of licensed sports merchandise has become the dominant force in pro-sports apparel and is using a similar playbook in the multi-billion-dollar world of college sports. In the two years, Fanatics has inked 10-year licensing deals with some of the NCAA’s biggest programs (including Oklahoma, Texas, Notre Dame, Florida and Tennessee), launched a college athlete jersey program, and announced its intention to create the first comprehensive college sports trading cards. Earlier this month, it announced that it will start manufacturing Nike-branded fan products for many of the sportswear giant’s biggest NCAA partners.

This Alabama deal encompasses all of those things. Candy Digital, in which Fanatics is the majority stakeholder, will handle the digital collectible and NFTs; Topps, which Fanatics bought last year, will handle physical and digital trading cards starting in 2025. The new product rights, similar to the deals with those other schools, include primary apparel and headwear licenses. (The university’s Nike deal for performance apparel remains unchanged, and it will continue to support other licensees).

It also deepens Fanatics’ relationship with one of its most important college partners. Alabama has been the company’s highest-selling college brand in each of the past five years. The Crimson Tide have played in six of the past seven college football championship games, winning three of those titles, and are expected to open the 2022 season ranked No. 1.

The team shop is on pace to open inside Bryant Denny Stadium later this year. In a sign of the times, it will also offer Crimson Tide athletes additional NIL opportunities. Schools are rushing to provide more money-making opportunities as a recruiting enticement—despite a chorus of critics that includes Alabama coach Nick Saban—and that’s flowed over into many corporate partnerships. Alabama fans will be able to buy athlete-specific jerseys, T-shirts, hats, memorabilia and trading cards in the new shop. It will provide space for athletes to do signing sessions, or conduct paid meet and greets.

The Alabama partnership mirrors some aspects of Fanatics’ recent wide-ranging deal with WWE (NYSE: WWE). As the company, which recently raised money at a $27 billion valuation, continues to expand into new verticals, it is looking to flex that advantage by offering more to its most important partners. The next Fanatics vertical to launch is likely sports betting, and while the Alabama deal doesn’t include anything in gambling realm, that next step is likely not far off.

Alabama was assisted in the deal by Learfield, the school’s multimedia rights partner, and Learfield-owned CLC, which is the school’s licensing agency.

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