Fanatics’ Next Big Bet? A Comic-Con for Sports

Fanatics, the sports-focused company led by CEO Michael Rubin, wants to create a Comic-Con for sports fans.

Fanatics is planning its first live flagship event, which it is calling Fanatics Fest, for Aug. 16-18, to be held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.

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NFL legends Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, MLB legend Derek Jeter, and NBA superstar Kevin Durant are attached to participate, as is entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, Eli Manning, WNBA star Sabrina Ionescu, and wrestling legend Hulk Hogan. The company’s events division, Fanatics Events, is producing the show.

“There isn’t a unifying event for sports, the way you see it in pop culture with Comic-Con, or for influencers with VidCon, or tech with CES or music with South By [SXSW], none of those platforms exist [for sports],” says Lance Fensterman, the CEO of Fanatics Events, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “It just became clear that there was an opportunity perhaps to put a lot of those pieces together, and Fanatics … is well positioned to put down the bedrock that then we can build something off of for the entire sports, culture, collecting community, if you will.”

The focal point of Fanatics Fest will be a 2,500 seat main stage, paired with a 400,000 foot show floor, with booths and activations expected from the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, UFC, WWE, WNBA, Fanatics, Topps, Mitchell & Ness, PWCC, Lids, and the card grading firm Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA).

The goal, Fensterman says, is to engage hardcore sports fans, while also bringing in more casual fans.

“When we launched New York Comic Con in 2006, we launched it for comic fans, comic collectors, comic dealers, comic creators. So there’s your hardcore audience, there’s your collectors, right?” Fensterman says. “But then we started to move out in concentric circles of popular culture. Say, well what about film and television? Video games? Toys? Japanese pop culture? We’re looking at our opportunity in a similar way and saying, well what are the other areas of sports fandom? Whether those are athletes, memorabilia, music, fashion, the business of sports, film, documentaries. There’s a passionate core of people. But then there’s all sorts of people that love sports for other reasons.

“We’ve seen especially in this NFL season, that there are more casual fans of sports, in this case football, and they’re looking an on-ramp, and if they can find it, they’re willing to jump on,” he added.

Fanatics is still figuring out the specific programming and activations, though Fensterman laid out some concepts that they had bandied about, like having Peyton Manning interview the cast and director of the film Hoosiers on stage (it is said to be his favorite movie) or having a panel with San Antonio Spurs star Victor Wembanyama on stage with Ewan McGregor to talk Star Wars (Wembanyama is expected to compete in this year’s Olympics for France, making such a panel extremely unlikely this time).

There will also be live podcast tapings, product drops, and “major announcements.”

“Just like we want the event to be a mash-up of lots of different content and genres, we want the actual content we’re putting on stages and elsewhere to be that same kind of mash-up, that brings the unique take on some on someone or something that we haven’t seen before,” Fensterman says.

On the show floor, they expect to bring together collector-focused booths, memorabilia, art and interactive exhibits (want to try your hand at an NFL 40-yard dash? Now could be your chance). And the Fanatics-owned trading card company Topps will have a major presence, including exclusive releases and other collectibles for purchase, as well as live trading card box breaks streamed on the Fanatics Live platform.

General admission daily tickets will be $50, while ticket prices ranging from $20-$400, depending on what type of tickets attendees purchase.

Fensterman says the company hopes to put on a couple of major shows in the U.S. before developing International offshoots. The company is also planning smaller more collector-focused events.

Ultimately, the inaugural Fanatics Fest will be the first at bat at what the company expects to be a long game. Fensterman says that the company expects to really dig in to what clicks with the fans, and what doesn’t

“That allows us to lean into the good stuff and build it out from there,” he says. “This year we’re building a team and we’re gonna go out and really meet fans and really find out what they want, and then we’re gonna lean in.”

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