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Volume 21 No. 35
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Fanatics rolls out new college division with Eiler at the helm

Fanatics has spent the last two years reimagining the manufacture and sales of licensed sports merchandise for the professional leagues, and now the Florida-based company is taking a similar approach to the college space.

With considerable wind at its back, thanks to a series of investments this year, Fanatics introduced its new college division last week. Fanatics is bringing over Derek Eiler from Fermata Partners to oversee the launch of the expanded college business. Eiler’s hiring was done in concert with Fanatics’ acquisition of Fermata’s collegiate licensing business, which owns the licensing rights to Georgia, Kentucky, Miami, Notre Dame, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin.

That portion of Fermata, which was bought from CAA Sports, will continue to operate out of its Atlanta base under the same name, but as a standalone business within Fanatics.

Eiler, who was the longtime COO at Collegiate Licensing Co. before co-founding Fermata in 2012, will serve as executive vice president within Fanatics College. Chris Prindiville, another CLC and Fermata veteran, will come aboard Fanatics College as a senior vice president. Brian Swallow, Fanatics’ senior vice president for business development, will be part of the leadership as well in the college division.

The recent surge by Fanatics, which boasts annual sales of $2 billion across its sports properties, is part of the vision espoused by Michael Rubin, Fanatics’ executive chairman, and Doug Mack, CEO. He has engineered a remake of Fanatics from an e-commerce retailer selling products made by other companies to a fully vertical operation capable of making, selling and delivering its own product.

The innovative approach to licensed merchandise has drawn the attention of the pro leagues — the NFL, NFLPA and MLB all have made investments into the business.

The financial denouement came last month when Fanatics closed on a round of $1 billion in funding, led by Japanese tech fund SoftBank, which further enhanced confidence in the business model.

The investment has led to further speculation that Fanatics, which traces its roots back to the early days of e-commerce, might look to get into the business of brick-and-mortar stores. That’s possibly a story for down the road. For now, Fanatics is cementing its status as a mobile-first tech company that can do everything from making the jersey to selling and distributing it.

The idea behind the streamlined model is to get products into the hands of the buyer more quickly.

The non-college part of Fermata, which owns licensing rights for a variety of sports brands, including the PGA Tour, Kentucky Derby and a dozen English Premier League clubs, will stay with CAA Sports under the guidance of Kit Walsh and Scott Bouyack.