Nike is making a strategic shift in how it makes NCAA fan apparel

Georgia Bulldogs NCAA partners with Nike

Courtesy: Fanatics

Sports commerce platform Fanatics is entering into a long-term partnership with Nike to manufacture college sports fan apparel.

The partnership will involve collaboration with the Fanatics College division, which already partners with most of the Nike-sponsored colleges and universities. Manufacturing is set to begin in summer 2024, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Fanatics provided CNBC with a statement from Fanatics Commerce CEO Doug Mack saying that it is “excited to maximize the value of Nike’s college partnerships,” but declined further comment.

Nike said in a statement it is making a strategic shift in how it serves NCAA university partners, and extending its licensing relationships with Fanatics and Branded Custom Sportswear, another collegiate partner, to include Nike NCAA retail fanwear and sideline products.

Nike has some of the largest contracts with top college sports programs to outfit their school teams, worth millions of dollars. According to the Sports Business Journal, Nike and its Jordan Brand outfitted 48 teams in the most recent NCAA basketball tourney, its highest total ever. It also outfits more than half of the Division I football programs.

Nike will continue to manufacture apparel and merchandise for its college team partners, including on-field apparel, according to sources.

Fanatics will manufacture fan apparel, replica jerseys, sideline apparel, headwear and women’s fan gear, among other items. The new Fanatics’ deal will include a select group of Nike’s college and university partners, with Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson, Oregon, Oklahoma and Penn State among likely participants, according to sources, and investment in the growth of the women’s apparel business is among the aims of the partnership.

Fanatics already has exclusive licensing deals with the NFL, NHL, MLB, as well as various colleges and universities. Several of those deals, including the NFL and MLB, also overlap with Nike jersey and apparel deals.

Fanatics is a major hub for sports merchandise, as well as sports-themed home, office and automotive consumer products. The company is expanding into online sports betting, too. The three-time CNBC Disruptor 50 company has a private valuation of $27 billion.

It has completed several acquisitions in recent years as a closely held company. In 2020, it acquired sports merchandise manufacturer WinCraft, and earlier this year it bought trading card company Topps for $500 million. Last month, CNBC reported that Fanatics is in talks to buy sports betting company Tipico, though a deal hasn’t yet been reached.

Topps will launch a line of trading cards that features college athletes this upcoming fall season, in a deal that parent company Fanatics said will cut some players in on the profits and pair them up with school logos on cards for the first time. The program will include more than 150 schools featuring both current and former athletes. The company also has deals with more than 200 individual student-athletes at those schools to use their names and likenesses. And the plan is to keep adding schools and athletes, Fanatics said.

The majority of the Power Five conference schools will participate in the new Fanatics trading cards deal, including Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Oregon, and Texas A&M.

The recently expanded name, image, and likeness rules have allowed college athletes to sign sponsorship deals, opening additional opportunities around apparel and merchandise. Fanatics recently struck a deal that would allow fans to purchase customized college football jerseys with names and number of active players who would be compensated for it.

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