Fanatics scores China deal, IPO may be next play

The company sells products for more than 300 sports teams, brands and leagues

CHICAGO/NEW YORK - Fanatics Inc, the world’s biggest licensed sports merchandise retailer, said on Thursday it was expanding into China via a venture with private equity firm Hillhouse Capital Group, as the e-commerce platform considers a possible public listing.

Fanatics, the Softbank-backed firm with annual revenue that exceeds $3 billion, is betting on what it sees as untapped demand in China for sports equipment and clothing.

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“China has been a market we followed for a while, and we’ve been meeting with multiple partners in China trying to figure out how we approach it in the best way,” Zohar Ravid, Fanatics’ head of international corporate development, told Reuters.

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“The interest overall in the country around European football, and American sports, is growing.”

Florida-based Fanatics operates online stores and sells products for more than 300 teams, brands and leagues from Manchester United and Nike to the National Football League.

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The 50-50 joint venture with Hillhouse, Asia’s largest private equity firm, will be based in Shanghai.

It aims to localize operations including product design, sourcing and licensing to serve what Fanatics expects will be a multi-billion dollar market.

The plan includes leveraging Hillhouse’s expertise to build partnerships with e-commerce channels operated by Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent, as well as selling in physical stores.

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Fanatics now generates 10% of sales from outside the United States. The global licensed sports merchandise market is estimated to be worth $25 billion a year.