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Vision Fund startups Fanatics and Coupang unite to sell US sports merch in Korea

SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son has repeatedly described the Vision Fund as a club for the world’s most exciting startups and, while even the fund’s own LP seem to disagree with some of its investment thesis, its portfolio companies do frequently come together.
The latest Vision Fund partnership pairs two e-commerce firms in opposite corners of the world: U.S-based sports specialist Fanatics and Coupang, Korea’s largest e-commerce firm.
Fanatics got its Vision Fund spurs through a $1 billion deal led by SoftBank in 2017, while Coupang, was a more recent joiner via a $2 billion deal in November although SoftBank itself has been an investor for some time.
The two companies are teaming up to sell U.S. sportswear and merchandise to consumers in Korea via a 10-year deal that will kick off this summer. The Fanatics range covers NFL jerseys, NBA T-shirts, items from Nike and others. The agreement will see Fanatics become the exclusive provider of sports merchandise for Coupang in Korea, which is the world’s fifth largest e-commerce market and project to grow further still.
Coupang claims that one in every two adults in Korea has its app on their phone. The nine-year-old company’s CEO, Bom Kim, told TechCrunch last year that the business is “approaching” $5 billion in revenue for 2018 with 70 percent annual growth.
That’s an ideal partner for Fanatics, which is going after a strategy of working with vertical e-commerce companies in a bid to expand its reach and distribution beyond its own network.
The company’s first deal was with Walmart in the U.S. last month, a move that pits it against Amazon, and now it is getting started on Asia, as Fanatics executive chairman Michael Rubin — pictured in the top image — told TechCrunch in a statement:
Marketplaces represent an important channel for e-commerce, especially internationally, and leagues and clubs want their official licensed products available to fans everywhere in the world. Our global marketplace strategy is a way to do just that by offering access to our industry-leading and exclusive inventory, but in a disciplined way that eliminates counterfeits and offers an improved brand presentation that benefits all parties. This is our second marketplace deal and we expect many more in the future.
Beyond this partnership, Fanatics global operations span a distribution center in Hong Kong, a tech team in India and a European HQ in Manchester with additional offices in Spain and Germany. The Vision Fund aside, its investors include Silver Lake, Alibaba, Temasek, A16z and Insight Venture Partners.
Note: The original version of this story was edited to reflect that Fanatics is the exclusive provider of all licensed sports merchandise on Coupang, and to correct Fanatics’ European offices.
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