Fanatics helps pro athletes transition to life after sports with business immersion program

Fanatics is helping professional athletes transition to life after the final buzzer — or pitch, or whistle.

The company is expanding a pilot program to offer business education and exposure to players with the WNBA and MLB via a partnership with the University of Southern California. Through the one-week immersion program, players get in-classroom learning combined with hands-on experiences in Fanatics’ different business units.

The company says it is uniquely positioned to help athletes lay the groundwork for the next chapter of their careers with its wide-ranging sports portfolio. Fanatics has in recent months grown from its e-commerce core to add sports betting and live events to its growing business.

“Having a vehicle to help these athletes is not only the right thing to do, but it’s actually good for our business,” said Orlando Ashford, chief people officer at Fanatics. “These people will be friends of Fanatics, which will help us in a lot of different ways.”

Athletes in the program get a first-hand look at everything from Fanatics’ collectables business to its apparel company to its VIP and loyalty programs. They also get exposure to CEOs and experts in everything from design to marketing.

Fanatics picks up the tab for the week, covering everything from travel and transportation to food and hotel stays, Ashford said.

The pilot program launched about six years ago with a small number of NFL players. Now Fanatics is expanding the offering to more pro sports leagues. Eventually, Ashford said, the company plans to include retired players and offer a longer, six-month co-op-like experience.

One such player taking part is WNBA player Isabelle Harrison, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in May. Harrison joined 10 other professional athletes in Los Angeles this week for the Fanatics program.

Isabelle Harrison with former NBA player Ron Harper at a dinner during Fanatics' immersion program.

To have this opportunity, especially as a woman and Black athlete, I just feel like it’s going to make the difference for my next step as a professional,” Harrison said.

The 6-foot-3 former Tennessee Vol said she found the personality and learning assessment results especially interesting. She also enjoyed the direct exposure to Fanatics’ executives and the opportunity to pick their brains.

Harrison said she was particularly looking forward to dinner on the final night of the program with Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin.

“I just don’t know if he knows the impact he’s having on us right now,” she said.

Fanatics, acquired by Rubin in 2011, has seen rapid growth over the past few years. The company is valued at $31 billion and has been quietly considering a potential initial public offering.

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