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Nike Drafts Fanatics for NCAA Fan Apparel, Furthering Fanatics’ Moves into Manufacturing and College Sports

Fanatics will now make fan gear for Nike-sponsored NCAA teams.

Nike has entered a long-term, exclusive licensing partnership with Fanatics for the manufacture and sale of fan apparel and headwear, for a “select group” of Nike-sponsored colleges and universities starting in 2024.

The new partnership continues commerce platform Fanatics’ rapid expansion into the manufacturing side of the sports gear world, following similar deals with the NFL and MLB and its acquisition of trading card brand Topps.

While specific teams weren’t disclosed in the announcement, Nike outfitted 48 teams in the most recent NCAA basketball tournament and also outfits more than half of the Division I football programs, according to Sports Business Journal. Now Fanatics’ in-house apparel and manufacturing division, Fanatics Brands, will serve as the fan apparel and headwear licensee for a number of those Nike-sponsored teams. The Fanatics College division already has direct partnerships with most of the Nike-sponsored colleges and universities, but under the new deal Fanatics will create expanded assortments of replica jerseys, headwear and sideline apparel, with a particular focus on women’s gear (also a focus of Nike’s at the moment).

“We are proud to expand our long-standing partnership with Nike and implement our innovative vertical commerce model across their preeminent roster of universities,” said Doug Mack, CEO of Fanatics Commerce and Vice Chairman of Fanatics Holdings in a statement. “Our team is excited to maximize the value of Nike’s college partnerships by creating faster speed-to-market of fan gear through our agile supply chain, resulting in an expanded assortment of both timeless and on-trend Nike-branded merchandise for college fans and retailers everywhere.”

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While fan apparel will now fall under Fanatics’ purview, CNBC reports that Nike will continue to manufacture apparel and merchandise for its college team partners, including (importantly) on-field apparel. According to a Fanatics’ spokesperson, the deal will allow both companies “to do what they do best” — Fanatics will focus on “innovating and enhancing the fan experience through the broadest assortments of timely, high-quality fan gear,” while Nike will continue to bring its “product innovation and preeminent sports performance products” to on-field and on-court gear.

In addition to accelerating its momentum into the manufacturing space, the deal with Nike amplifies Fanatics’ focus on the college sports sector. Fanatics’ Collectibles division and its newly acquired subsidiary Topps announced plans for a college trading card program in June 2022, including exclusive agreements with 35 college partners and non-exclusive agreements with more than 100 others. Additionally, Fanatics announced a partnership in February 2022 with OneTeam for a college jersey customization program.

The sports world is lining up to get involved in Fanatics’ unique business model. The company’s recent $1.5 billion funding round (which brought its valuation to a staggering $27 billion) in April 2022 was led by the NFL and also included investments from the NFL Players AssociationMLB and its players’ union, the NHLAlibaba Co-founder and Brooklyn Nets Owner Joseph Tsai and Paris Saint-Germain soccer team Owner Qatar Investment Authority.

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