Fanatics looking for a brand identity: Jonathan Mildenhall

Fanatics, a $27 billion sports marketing company, has brought in the former Airbnb marketing expert to help the company develop its brand identity as it looks to go public as soon as next year.

The company founded by Michael Rubin in 2011 began selling official sports team merchandise but in recent years has expanded to include trading cards, digital collectibles, and NFTs and is now looking to get a piece of the sports betting pie.

To elevate the online retailer to the Amazon for sports fans, Robin added Jonathan Mildenhall to the company’s board of directors last week after a successful stint as Airbnb’s head of marketing. He also worked for Coca-Cola.

“The fanatical brand is not on par with the company yet,” Mildenhall, 54, told The Post. “We need to know what the story of the fanatics will be.”

That story will certainly include the popular Topps trading cards, which Robin bought for about $500 million this year after persuading Major League Baseball to break off its 70-year relationship with the company last year.

Fanatics bought Topps for about $500 million this year after persuading Major League Baseball to sever their 70-year relationship with the company last year.
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Robin convinced MLB, with whom he signed a merchandise deal two years ago, that he can expand the trading card business much faster than Topps by entering into non-fungible tokens (NFTs). He also offered the MLB Players Association a stake in the sports card business.

Robben and the MLB struck a deal without Topps knowing about secret negotiations and then secured trading card contracts with the NFL and NBA. Fanatics also own Candy Digital, a digital collectibles company, and have applied for betting licenses to develop a site that could one day rival FanDuel and DraftKings.

“My expertise is developing culturally significant brands,” said Mildenhall, who was ranked the 8th most influential CMO in the world by Forbes in 2017. “What I want for the fanatics is to become a brand that you cannot take back from the world.”

fanatic clothes
The Fanatics, founded in 2011 by Michael Rubin, began selling official sports team merchandise but in recent years has expanded to include trading cards, digital collectibles, and NFTs.
B51 / Mark Brown / Getty Images
Jonathan Mildenhall
“My experience is developing culturally significant brands,” Mildenhall said.
Fraser Harrison / Getty Images

He noted his work with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky creating a story that would separate it from VRBO and Home Away, two online rental sites that have done pretty much the same thing. They created a message that Airbnb created a sense of belonging, giving travelers a chance to live like the locals.

“They probably have now the most important brand of the last 10 years,” Mildenhall said.

He added: “We want to open the equivalent of belonging to fanatics.” “So, it’s clear what the business offers.”

The 49-year-old has become somewhat of a celebrity, owning a stake in the Philadelphia 76ers and touring with rapper Mick Mill as well as new Sixers guard James Harden. He also partnered with Jay-Z in February to buy old team jersey maker Mitchell & Ness for about $250 million.

Mildenhall said that while Robin can build a company and make connections, he doesn’t know how to create a brand identity, adding that most sports fans are vaguely familiar with fanatics.

Mildenhall wants fanatics to get the instant recognition other brands have. For Nike, the effective story is human potential, he said, and for Coca-Cola it was happiness in a bottle.

“I don’t know yet what this bigoted idea is,” Mildenhall said, adding that’s what he and Robin need to find out.

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