Starting in mid-2024, Fanatics will begin manufacturing almost all of the Nike fan apparel for many of the sportswear giant’s most prominent college partners. That means replica jerseys, sideline apparel and headwear for many of the NCAA’s biggest brands. While specific schools weren’t named, Nike and Jordan Brand’s partners include Alabama, Ohio State, Texas and Michigan.
The set-up is similar to comprehensive deals that Fanatics and Nike have in the NFL and MLB, where Nike handles on-field product like athlete jerseys, while Fanatics manufactures the fan-facing gear on behalf of the Oregon-based company. Making product bearing other brands’ logos is a lesser-known part of the Fanatics business, and one that allows it to add scale within specific segments of the licensed goods industry.
Nike is currently manufacturing the bulk of these college goods in-house. The new set-up will let the shoe giant reduce complexity around its college products: Nike moves from having the manufacturing costs and revenue on its P&L to just receiving a royalty from Fanatics. Nike can in turn focus primarily on the marketing and on-field aspects of these deals, while retailers will soon be able to source its MLB, NFL and college product all from the same place.
“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,” Doug Mack, CEO of Fanatics Commerce and vice chairman of Fanatics Holdings, said in a statement.
Deals like this also help Michael Rubin’s company, which recently raised money at a $27 billion valuation, become even further entrenched in the industry. By becoming Nike’s exclusive fan apparel and headwear licensee for a number of these schools, Fanatics is now even more critical to Nike’s business (and the business of some of the NCAA's biggest athletic departments).
Fanatics is gradually growing its presence in college, a push that started in earnest back in 2017 when it purchased boutique collegiate licensing company Fermata Partners from CAA. The company has since inked a handful of 10-year licensing deals with some of the NCAA’s biggest schools, including Texas, Oregon and Oklahoma. In February, Fanatics partnered with OneTeam Partners to market jerseys of college stars, and last month announced hundreds of licensing deals with schools and athletes to launch the first comprehensive attempt at collegiate trading cards.
Taken together, those college initiatives serve to mimic the playbook that Fanatics used in U.S. pro sports—a web of deals with leagues, manufacturers and retail partners that give the company touchpoints at all parts of the market, and serve as a metaphorical moat around its business.
Of the Top 20 schools in last year’s final AP college football poll, 17 were Nike schools, including title game participants Alabama and Georgia. Three of the four men’s Final Four teams were also Nike schools.