The business of merch: when fanatical fun means serious $$

Friday, February 9, 2024 by Snacks

The playing field… The world of sports merch and collectables is having an all-star moment. Sales of NFL-licensed products alone are a $3B/year market, and the overall trading-card biz is estimated to be worth $44B. And vintage-gear sales (picture: classic jerseys) have surged as fans splurge for the perfect game fit. The global market for sportswear’s expected to hit $512B in retail sales by 2027, up 7% from today.

The players… The industry’s MVP is mega-merch master Fanatics, which pays 300+ teams and brands for the right to sell official jerseys, caps, and koozies. In 2022, Fanatics added to its roster, buying throwback-jersey maker Mitchell & Ness and rival trading-car co Topps (for a reported $500M). Thanks to the Topps deal, Fanatics has the rights to MLB, NFL, and NBA trading cards. Last month, it signed an exclusive trading-card deal with LeBron James and secured the license to sell UFC cards. But dominance isn’t a slam dunk: rival Panini has the rights to FIFA World Cup collectibles through 2030, and last year it sued Fanatics over antitrust claims.

Keeping score…

  • In 2022, a jersey worn by Michael Jordan in the 1998 NBA Finals sold for $10.1M.