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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

SoftBank said near to entering sports clothing with $1bn investment

Masayoshi Son's conglomerate eyeing move for Fanatics, an online retailer of licensed sports apparel

SoftBank chief Masayoshi Son. Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg
SoftBank chief Masayoshi Son. Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg

SoftBank Group is nearing a US$1 billion investment in Fanatics, an online retailer of licensed sports apparel, as the Japanese firm ramps up deal-making with its mega technology fund.

The deal is expected to increase Fanatics’s value to about $4.5bn, said a person familiar with the matter. It will bring the company’s total funding to about $1.7bn, said the person, who asked not to be identified.

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.

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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, Nike and Under Armour. in licensed sports gear. This will not be Mr Son’s first e-commerce bet: He was an early backer of China’s Alibaba, itself an investor in Fanatics.

Over the past six months, SoftBank’s Vision Fund, a nearly $100bn vehicle for backing tech companies, has explored investments in industries as disparate as ride-hailing, co-working, robotics, agriculture, health care and autonomous driving.