World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. and Fanatics Inc. have signed a long-term deal for ecommerce, licensed merchandise and collectibles.
Fanatics, which is No. 36 in the 2021 Digital Commerce 360’s Top 1000, is getting rights to design, manufacture and distribute WWE products such as T-shirts and caps. It’s set to debut a new online WWE store later this year. The Fanatics collectibles division will also get permission for WWE trading cards once the current deal expires. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
WWE CEO Vince McMahon said the multi-platform arrangement, the first of its kind for both parties, will “set a new standard” for his company’s merchandise business. Online store operations were previously managed in-house. Fanatics plans to work in tandem with existing WWE staff.
Last year, WWE, No. 903 in the Top 1000, sold about $101 million in consumer products, ranging from clothing and video games to replica championship belts, up 18% from the previous year. That accounted for about 9% of the company’s total annual revenue. Ecommerce sales declined 5% in 2021 to $39.1 million.
WWE has been realigning several of its business partnerships in recent months. It extended its action-figure arrangement with toymaker Mattel Inc. and will start selling lottery games through a licensing deal with International Game Technology PLC. Those moves followed a major WWE distribution shift last year, in which it agreed to air its programming on NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service in a deal worth more than $1 billion.
“WWE is one of the most widely admired sports and entertainment properties worldwide, and it made perfect sense to activate many parts of our Fanatics global platform to create a first-of-its-kind, all-in fan experience,” Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin said in a statement.
Fanatics expansion to new markets
Fanatics, once solely a retailer of licensed sports merchandise and memorabilia, has pushed its way into new industries. The company has attracted significant investor interest as management looks at opportunities in media and ticketing while working on a move into sports betting.
Earlier this month, Fanatics was said to have raised $1.5 billion in funding from backers that included Fidelity Management & Research Co. and funds operated by BlackRock inc. and MSG Capital LP. The company’s valuation was said to be $27 billion.
Rubin made his biggest splash in trading cards when he snagged licenses for baseball, basketball and football away from incumbents. Fanatics then acquired Topps in January for about $500 million. The new agreement will bring the WWE back to its previous partner, Topps, after the current arrangement with rival card-maker Panini SpA ends in a few years.
Fanatics’ digital collectibles arm, Candy, which is backed by private equity firm Insight Partners and Softbank Vision Fund 2, will play a role with WWE as well, creating non-fungible token (NFT) collectibles. Candy signed a deal with MLB earlier this year and is working with top prospects ahead of the NBA’s upcoming draft.