SoftBank Group Corp. is nearing a $1 billion (¥109 billion) investment in Fanatics Inc., an online retailer of licensed sports apparel, as it ramps up deal-making with its giant technology fund.
The deal is expected to increase the value of Fanatics to about $4.5 billion, said a person familiar with the matter, and bring the company’s total funding to about $1.7 billion.
Fanatics and SoftBank declined to comment.
Since starting in Jacksonville, Florida, more than two decades ago, Fanatics has expanded into practically every facet of the sports apparel industry. It works with Major League Baseball and the National Football League, among others. The company sells products ranging from shirts and jerseys to branded bobble-heads, lawn chairs, mugs and grills. It also has a rapidly growing memorabilia business with sports stars, including Stephen Curry, Ronda Rousey, and Peyton Manning.
The deal suggests that SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son is looking to compete with the likes of Adidas AG, Nike Inc. and Under Armour Inc. in licensed sports gear. This won’t be Son’s first e-commerce bet; he was an early backer of China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., itself an investor in Fanatics.
Over the past six months, SoftBank’s Vision Fund, a nearly $100 billion vehicle for backing tech companies, has explored investments in industries as disparate as ride-hailing, co-working, robotics, agriculture, health care and autonomous driving.