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MLB All-Star Game is first big test of Fanatics livestream shopping

TechnologyMLB All-Star Game is first big test of Fanatics livestream shopping

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Fanatics’ first livestream shopping event will feature collectors opening baseball trading card packs on the field during this week’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game events in Seattle.

The sports platform’s new business division, which is called Fanatics Live, is centered around live shopping experiences during which users will be able to buy trading cards and other collectibles on the Fanatics Live app while watching streams of hosts and other collector sellers.

Earlier this year, Fanatics hired Nick Bell, who previously led teams responsible for Google Search experience and was Snap’s global head of content and partnerships, to serve as the CEO of Fanatics Live.

Fanatics will be opening its new platform for a beta test coinciding with MLB’s All-Star Game to a small group of consumers, Bell said, and the company is working with several trading card “breakers” to host live streams direct from T-Mobile Park in Seattle.

While this first effort will focus on “breaking” — the social trading card buying system where participants pre-purchase coinciding spots in unopened packs or boxes of cards which a seller then opens live — Bell said this is just a sampling of what Fanatics plans to do in the live shopping space once the platform fully launches later this month.

“Our intention is to have Fanatics Live be the leader in the live commerce space,” Bell said. “We know live commerce in the U.S. is still really nascent, but there is a big opportunity for growth that we expect to occur over the next few months and years; we hope to be driving all of that.”

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Livestream shopping, which got its start in China and across Asia, has grown into a $512 billion market, according to Coresight Research. That growing popularity has pushed e-commerce platforms like Amazon, eBay, and Poshmark into the space, as well as tech platforms like Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, and TikTok.

But the trend, with a seller broadcasting a live video showing and explaining products they’re selling to viewers who are also able to ask questions — effectively a new-age version of QVC or the Home Shopping Network — has been slow to gain traction in the U.S. Earlier this year, Meta shut down support for live shopping on Instagram, instead pivoting to other forms of selling on the platform.

Bell acknowledged the challenges for livestream shopping in the U.S. but said he sees them as an opportunity. He cited data showing that 74% of Chinese consumers have bought a product while watching a livestream, while 78% of U.S. consumers said they have never watched a livestream shopping experience. However, among those U.S. consumers that have, a vast majority purchased at least one item.

Fanatics is betting that not only will its new live shopping platform appeal to the niche but fervent group of trading card fans and other sports fans, but a wider audience of consumers who have yet to be exposed to these sorts of streams. Fanatics is working with a variety of leagues, brands, creators, athletes, and personalities, some well beyond sports, for potential opportunities on the platform.

Chris Lamontagne, who joined Fanatics Live as senior vice president of platform earlier this year after serving as CEO of social commerce platform Spring, said there is an untapped “intersection between this idea of content, community, and commerce.”

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“What we’ve really tried to focus in on is how do we build a platform that supports those three components – really simple and gamified commerce, but really underpinning it all is a sense of community and a feeling that you can only buy something here,” he said.

Fanatics Live hired Scott Rogowski, the former host of viral sensation HQ Trivia, to be an official host on the platform, and is looking to hire additional hosts as well as other content creators in the collector space to help create the community gathering spaces where products are also being sold. The app Fanatics has built out for the Live product features a variety of tools for sellers to make their streams engaging and interactive.

Live commerce is the latest effort from Fanatics in its continuing evolution beyond the sports merchandise e-commerce company launched by Michael Rubin in 2011. Now with apparel rights to nearly every sports property and a database of more than 94 million fans, the company is pushing hard into the sports betting space as well, with an offer out to purchase PointsBet’s U.S. assets.

An IPO could be on the horizon for the three-time CNBC Disruptor 50 company, which was valued at $31 billion in December 2022. While other areas of its business are mature – the company is expecting approximately $8 billion in 2023 sales, excluding trading cards rights – Bell said its livestream shopping efforts are only getting started.

“This is the very first innings for us and we’re going to be learning,” Bell said. “Between now and the end of the year we expect an extreme pace of innovation.”

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