Brady, Jeter, Eli and Peyton Manning headline Fanatics’ effort to build a comic-con of sports

Tom Brady attends Fanatics and Topps ‘Hobby Rip Night’ Event with Michael Rubin, Tom Brady, Kevin Hart and Travis Scott on September 30, 2023 in Linwood, New Jersey. 

Dave Kotinsky | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Since the New York Comic-Con launched in 2006, the convention has evolved well beyond comics into a wide-ranging fandom celebration of anime, video games, television, movies and all things pop culture, drawing more than 200,000 attendees last year.

Now, Fanatics wants to do the same thing but for sports, hosting a three-day event in New York City in August that is aiming be at the center of sports fandom, culture and collecting.

Lance Fensterman, CEO of Fanatics Events and the former president of ReedPop — where he produced pop culture events like New York Comic-Con, Complex-Con, and Star Wars Celebration — said he sees several parallels between pop culture fans and sports fans. However, he noted, while events like New York Comic-Con have evolved to embrace multiple difference fanbases and communities, the sports-focused event space is “ready to be disrupted a bit.”

“You’ve got collector shows and card shows, and there are thousands of those across the U.S., and they’re awesome for collectors. You also have league- and team-sponsored fan fests that are very specific for that sport or team,” Fensterman said. “What we’re trying to do is combine the best elements of all of that, and then culture and entertainment.”

The three-day event, called Fanatics Fest NYC, will be held at New York City’s Javits Center, the massive expo center that has hosted the New York Comic-Con, the New York International Auto Show, and other big conventions and events. The event will feature multiple stages and theatres, interactive features and games, merchandise and trading card areas, and a museum display of rare cards and sports memorabilia. Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, Eli and Peyton Manning, Kevin Durant, Sabrina Ionescu and Hulk Hogan are just some of the big sports names scheduled to appear, Fensterman said.

The event will also look to go beyond sports, integrating entrepreneurs, entertainers and cultural influencers into the programming, Fensterman said, providing a platform to talk about how sports serve as a platform for inspiration. There will be exclusive apparel collaborations and a variety of unique products from the hundreds of teams and leagues that are Fanatics partners, which includes nearly every U.S. professional sports entity such as the NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, UFC, and WWE.

“Those are the moments that we get excited about, and we just don’t see it being done anywhere else in the world of live sports events,” Fensterman said.

Fanatics Events, which was launched last July in partnership with Endeavor-owned talent management company IMG, held its first large-scale activation last week, overseeing WWE World at WrestleMania, a five-day festival that ran alongside WWE’s premier event in Philadelphia. The festival was the highest-grossing and most-attended fan event in WWE history, according to Fanatics.

Fanatics Events’ WWE World at WrestleMania, a five-day festival that ran alongside WWE’s premier event in Philadelphia.

Fanatics

With this broader sports effort, the Fanatics Fest NYC will help the Fanatics Events team pursue coinciding business goals: elevating the other Fanatics vertical businesses and creating a new business around sports events.

Tickets for the event will range from $20 to $400, and general admission adult tickets will be priced at $50 per day. Fensterman said his goal is to draw between 50,000 and 100,000 fans for this inaugural event, which could potentially spawn other smaller-scale events across the country. The company will also look to host events in international markets, aiding its league partners looking to build fanbases abroad, he said.

These new set of events will also help to fuel the other business lines of the company: its commerce and merchandise division, its collectibles and trading cards business, its livestream shopping business, and its sports betting division.

Fanatics, the three-time CNBC Disruptor 50 company which ranked No. 21 in 2022, has evolved beyond the merchandise roots that Michael Rubin founded the company on. The company’s quick ascension has helped it garner a more than $31 billion valuation and put it on a path for a likely IPO. It has also put a magnifying glass on the company’s moves. The company says it was incorrectly blamed for issues related to Major League Baseball jerseys this spring, while it also finds itself in a legal battle with DraftKings over its expansion into sports betting.

Fanatics plans to reach profitability faster than anyone in the betting industry, says CEO Matt King

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