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SoftBank is pumping $1 billion into the online sports apparel retailer Fanatics

The deal is expected to value the company at $4.5 billion.

New York Yankees v Seattle Mariners
Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees hits a sacrifice fly against the Seattle Mariners 
Stephen Brashear / Getty
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

SoftBank is nearing a deal to invest $1 billion into Fanatics, an online retailer of licensed sports apparel that counts Major League Baseball and the National Football League as both investors and commercial partners, a person familiar with the transaction told Recode.

The deal, which will come out of SoftBank’s $100 billion tech-focused Vision Fund, is expected to value Fanatics at around $4.5 billion, and increase the company’s total funding to around $1.8 billion. The Wall Street Journal reported news of the deal earlier on Tuesday.

Fanatics has built a business that it expects will generate $2.2 billion in revenue this year on the back of licensing deals with major American sports leagues and big collegiate programs that give it the right to sell — and in some cases manufacture — team jerseys and other apparel through its own sites and via the online shops of teams and leagues.

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Those deals give it a rare leg up against Amazon, which does not have direct merchandise agreements with the leagues. Fanatics also operates some brick-and-mortar stores, such as the NBA’s New York City flagship location.

The giant new investment gives us another topic to discuss with Fanatics executive chairman Michael Rubin at Recode’s Code Commerce event on September 13 and 14 in New York City. Rubin will be joined onstage by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

This deal marks a reunion of sorts between SoftBank and Rubin. Back in the late ’90s, SoftBank’s now-defunct venture arm invested $100 million into Rubin’s previous company, GSI Commerce, which he sold to eBay for $2.4 billion in 2011.

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