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July 13, 2023

Fanatics is launching the Comic-Con of sports collectibles

A new events venture looks at the lucrative sports memorabilia market for an in-person sports-superfan convention

Hardcore sports collectors will soon have a new tradition to get excited about. Fanatics, the sports collectibles e-commerce company run by billionaire Michael Rubin, is launching a new venture called Fanatics Events that plans to create a Comic-Con-style convention geared toward sports memorabilia obsessives of all stripes.

Starting next year, Fanatics Events will organize and host large-scale global events focused on sports superfans and collectibles in partnership with talent management firm IMG. The new events-focused offshoot of Fanatics will be run by CEO Lance Fensterman, who has experience overseeing large-scale fan conventions like New York Comic-Con.

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While not officially affiliated with Comic-Con, Fanatics Events will aim to emulate the comic book and pop culture convention's overall vibe and massive scale for the sports memorabilia collector set. Since launching in San Diego in 1970, Comic-Con has expanded beyond its original focus on comic book fandom and become an enormous multi-genre pop culture festival that has set attendance world records. In 2019, just before the start of the pandemic, San Diego Comic-Con saw 167,000 attendees, while New York Comic-Con drew more than 250,000 people.

The popularity – and in many cases, monetary value – of sports trading cards surged during the Covid-19 pandemic. The global trading market is now valued at over $1 billion and is expected to keep growing over the next few years, according to a recent MarketWatch report. These trends, coupled with the post-pandemic return of live events and experiences, may bode well for Fanatics as it expands into the event space.

After starting out as a brick-and-mortar sports merchandise store in Florida in the mid-1990s, Fanatics, Inc. was acquired by Michael Rubin in 2011 and has since expanded through a series of partnerships and acquisitions. Last year, the company bought trading card giant Topps to grow its footprint in the sports collectibles space that it now hopes to dominate even further.

Rubin, who once owned a minority stake in the Philadelphia 76ers, got his entrepreneurial start in the Philly suburbs. Raised in Lafayette Hill, a teenage Rubin opened a ski equipment shop in Conshohocken called Mike's Ski and Sport. After briefly attending Villanova University, Rubin dropped out to start the athletic equipment merchandise company KPR Sports. The serial entrepreneur went on to found Global Sports Incorporated, later renamed GSI Commerce, a multibillion-dollar e-commerce company that he sold to eBay for $2.4 billion in 2011.