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Fanatics Acquires WinCraft as Founder Retires

Sports licensing giant Fanatics has acquired WinCraft, the industry’s largest hard goods licensee, after the recent news its chairman Dick Pope is retiring from the company he founded in 1961.

The deal would provide Fanatics an even larger footprint in the sports merchandise sector and increases its presence in the hard goods side of the business. The purchase includes WinCraft’s warehouse and manufacturing facilities, more than 700 consenting rights deals with colleges and professional sports leagues, and WinCraft’s lucrative agreement with the Olympics. WinCraft is currently earning an estimated $100 million annually.

The deal follows the recent acquisition of Top of the World (TOW) in September, which is a sports headwear company focusing on the collegiate market. TOW was facing liquidation at the time, but WinCraft has historically been profitable, despite recent blows to the industry this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on live sporting events.

Fanatics says CEO John Killen will be heading up the hard goods sector for Fanatics, while TOW president Scott Shuler continues to head the headwear division. They will report directly to Molly Adams, a relatively new face at Fanatics, who now serves in the role of executive VP, and Chief Integration and Transformation Officer. Adams will be heading the work of integrating the three company’s logistics, sales, marketing and management teams under the Fanatics umbrella.

New divisions created by the acquisition of WinCraft and ToW will report directly to newly hired executive Molly Adams.

The acquisition of WinCraft would be a major coup for Fanatics, as the company has been a leader in the space since its founding in 1961, initially selling products for cheerleaders at high schools and colleges. The company began lining up college and pro sports licenses beginning in 1963, and quickly became one of the dominant players in the sector.

Today WinCraft has more than 500 employees and works with the majority of sports licenses globally. It has also expanded into the entertainment space, working with Disney and its Star Wars franchise.

But Fanatics, founded by Michael Rubin of GSI Commerce, has been a runaway success since GSI inked its first major deal with NASCAR in 2002. Rubin then bought out Florida-based Fanatics in 2011, and rolled that company into GSI under the Fanatics brand.

Rubin then sold GSI to eBay, and refocused on the Fanatics brand, quickly turning it into a leading player in the sports merchandising industry.

There is some speculation that the recent acquisitions and a $350 million funding round in August are a sign that the company is planning an IPO in 2021, but CNBC quoted an unnamed source saying an IPO “is not on our radar right now.”

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