New York (CNN Business)The buzzy sports apparel startup Fanatics will become the new exclusive licensee for Major League Baseball cards, taking over from Topps after its deal with MLB ends in 2025, a source close to the company confirmed to CNN Business on Friday.
As a result, the more than 80-year-old Topps pulled the plug Friday on its plans to go public through a merger with a blank check special purpose acquisition company.The MLB deal is the latest splashy coup for Fanatics. The company also fortuitously opened a new store in Los Angeles in May that focuses on apparel for the popular Paris Saint-Germain soccer team — which made tons of headlines this month through the blockbuster signing of Argentine legend Lionel Messi. Fanatics had struck a 10-year merchandising deal with the PSG team, which also has top stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappé on the roster, back in 2020. The company plans to open more PSG stores, which could mean big bucks for Fanatics though the sale of jerseys and other goods featuring Messi and his new number 30. (Messi was number 10 on his old team, Barcelona.)Read MoreSoccer fans inspect Lionel Messi’s PSG no 30 shirts during Messi’s press conference announcing his signing with the club in Paris on August 11, 2021. Messi, the six time Ballon d’Or trophy winner with FC Barcelona, signed a 2-year contract with an option for a third year with the French club. Fanatics runs PSG’s shopping site, which currently offers a host of Messi items for sale beyond his jersey — including a T-shirt with his name and number in the shape of the Eiffel Tower, as well as one with the club’s slogan ‘Ici C’est Paris’ and the date of Messi’s official signing with the team.The company declined to comment on reports that it’s looking to set up a new trading card division at its company for baseball cards and potentially other sports like basketball and football. Fanatics making big moves towards possible IPOA source close to the company also confirmed to CNN Business that Fanatics just raised a new $325 million round of financing from Jay-Z, Major League Baseball, Silver Lake and other investors that values the company at $18 billion. That’s up from its previous valuation of $12.8 billion.Fanatics, led by top shareholder Michael Rubin and veteran e-commerce/tech executive Doug Mack, has clear aspirations to become a giant of the sports business world. Beyond the new baseball card deal and its growing clout in the apparel business, Fanatics is getting ready to dip its toe in the lucrative world of sports betting — taking on the likes of DraftKings. Fanatics lured away Matt King, the former CEO of DraftKings rival FanDuel, in June to lead a new sports gambling unit. EBay looks to cash in on trading cards boomThe company also has big plans for the burgeoning business of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs: digital assets that have become a big part of the sports collectibles world as of late. Fanatics recently launched a unit called Candy Digital with crypto entrepreneurs Michael Novogratz of Galaxy Digital (BRPHF) and Gary Vaynerchuk. In July Candy Digital sold its first NFT, a digital version of the famous “Luckiest Man” farewell speech made by Yankees great Lou Gehrig.Fanatics also hired former IAC (IAC) chief financial officer Glenn Schiffman last month, a move that is likely to increase chatter that the company is looking to go public.