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Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, Sabrina Ionescu & More to Headline Fanatics Fest NYC

Michael Rubin’s fandom juggernaut is bringing the biggest names in football, baseball, wrestling, and more to New York City for a first-of-its-kind three-day fan experience.

Fanatics is launching its first-ever Fanatics Fest in New York City this August.

The $31 billion brand led by Michael Rubin is leveraging its Fanatics Events branch to host fans of all interests at the 400,000-square-foot Javits Center. From Aug. 16 – 18, the three-day event will merge multiple-stage activations, exclusive product drops, live podcasts, and much more for an unprecedented experience unlike any other sports fandom has ever seen.

“You can run a 40-yard dash in the NFL space,” Lance Fensterman, CEO of Fanatics Events, told Boardroom. “You can have a selfie with the Lombardi Trophy. It’s Comic-Con for sports. An immersive experience that people will remember.”

Energizing the event space backed by a 2,500-seat main stage theatre, Fanatics Fest NYC will draw fans feverish about the NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, UFC, and WWE.

Even better? It will host talent from those leagues, too.

Making the most of Rubin’s Rolodex, Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, Sabrina Ionescu, Hulk Hogan, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, and Kevin Durant are already confirmed as headliners for the inaugural event. However, considering Rubin’s resume and the long list of leagues, it’s assumed many more A-listers and All-Stars are expected to join the lineup.

“Icons,” Fensterman said. “Athletes that represent the aspirations for the quality and scale we have for this event.”

On the eve of the announcement, Boardroom spoke with the brain behind Fanatics Fest NYC and those close to the company to hear all about this summer’s flagship fan experience.

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Origin Story

Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear sneakers, sell jerseys, and sit courtside.

Enter Michael Rubin.

As the story goes, the Fanatics founder attended last year’s New York Comic-Con. He walked the showroom floor set on learning more about the collectibles business, making good on acquiring Topps for $500 million in 2022. He left the convention asking two questions:

  • Why don’t we have this for sports?
  • Who can bring me the man who runs this?

That man was Fensterman, whom Rubin essentially hired on the spot.

“We spent the better part of seven or eight months figuring out what fans want,” said Fensterman. “Doing research, talking to brands, and just listening so we could plot out and build something new for sports fans.”

Having worked in the events space for nearly 20 years, Fensterman pedigree dates back to 2006 when he helped launch New York Comic-Con. It happened at a time when comic book conventions were still new, niche, and fragmented across the country.

“Most were very small, fan-run, and in hotel ballrooms,” Fensterman said. “We thought we could make it significantly larger and scale it by starting to engage other parts of popular culture.”

Over time, that meant building concentric circles around the core comic book collector to include overlapped interests in video games, film, television, and toys. Now, Comic-Con events take place worldwide to extreme fanfare, rapid regularity, and enhanced scale.

New York Comic-Con 2019 at Javits Convention Center in New York City. (Photo by Sam Aronov/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

When courted by Rubin to take the same scaling and engagement to sports, the seedlings of what Comic-Con once was lined up with what collectibles could be.

“I saw similarities in the card-collecting world,” Fensterman said. “There’s tons of shows and they’re awesome, but they’re not really engaging new fans. Can we take that hardcore collector and build around them with athletes, autographing, stage content, and exclusive merch? It felt like an exciting space that no one had built a community for but shared DNA with things I’d done in the past.”

With Fanatics Fest NYC, the goal is to create an event similar to that of South by Southwest — a space where leaders in various industries congregate, collaborate, and experience what’s new and what’s next.

Having already played a hand in Complex Con and Star Wars Celebration, Fensterman’s event experience is vast and varied. Only months in under Rubin, his hot hand still scorched at the first Fanatics Events activation this past weekend.

In Rubin’s hometown of Philadelphia, Fanatics Events launched WWE World at the record-setting WrestleMania 40. The five-day fan festival was essentially the first at-bat for Fanatics Events as a large-scale activation and fundamentally a homerun.

The Philly fan festival became the highest-grossing and most-attended event in WWE’s 44-year history.

Compounding that fanfare with that of Rubin’s reach and the entire sports and collecting sphere, Fanatics Fest NYC has a chance to raise the ceiling on experiential activations and put all fans under one roof.

“My entire career has been engaging passionate fan bases and learning how to motivate and excite them,” said Fensterman.

To do that in sports, he’ll have to up his game.

Assembling the Avengers

Already, MVPs and champions from all eras and arenas are tapped for Fanatics Fest NYC.

The inaugural event will see The Captain in attendance and TB12 in the building. Hulk Hogan will rip and sell shirts all at once while the Manning brothers will make memories and content with the same fans who watch their highlights and shows.

As fans flock to the trading pit to exchange cards or meander through museum displays of the world’s rarest memorabilia, they’ll have the chance to see their favorite athletes and hear their stories and hobbies like never before.

“We’ll have a few stages and a massive theatre downstairs,” Fensterman said. “Instead of having athletes talk about game-winners, we want them to talk about their side hustles and passions.”

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Thinking beyond the cliche, Fensterman envisions a world where the lines between superstar and superfan are blurred. A space where sports, cinema, apparel, and activations melt and morph.

“How cool would it be to take great sports films from history and reunite the cast? Is there an athlete who loves Major League? Could they get up there with Charlie Sheen and talk about why they love the movie or do trivia about the movie with the cast?” said Fensterman.

It all aligns with a world where fans consume culture not just through linear programming but via alternate audio and nuanced hobby hunting.

“We’re trying to think about this intersection of sports, collecting, memorabilia, and culture that can motivate hardcore fans but also reach out to casual fans or fans who love one element of sports fandom or culture,” said Fensterman.

Enlisting the likes of solidified sports stars like Sabrina Ionescu and bringing in entrepreneurial talent like Gary Vaynerchuk, Fanatics Fest looks to even the playing field regarding types of fandom while raising the stakes on experience and product.

Though Fanatics umbrella brands like Topps, Mitchell & Ness, and Lids will all be activated, the spirit of competition that drives sports is alive and well where the festival is concerned.

“The show is open to everyone, brands and leagues,” Fensterman said. “Fanatics is making the investment, taking the risk, and doing the heavy lifting because we want that brand equity, but this show is for everyone. We want every brand that’s relevant and every league that’s relevant to be there and to activate.”

At this time, both Boardroom and Professional Sports Authenticator will be on hand with many more brands said to be added.

“It’s not all about Fanatics,” said Fensterman. “It’s about every brand that’s appropriate.”

Still, Fanatics will be at the forefront. And so will the lauded leader of the newly minted Events division, who’s only months removed from meeting Rubin at last year’s Comic-Con.

Master of Ceremony

Michael Rubin is known to throw a good party. This August, he’ll be putting on his biggest one yet.

Weeks after entertaining in The Hamptons, Rubin’s worlds of White Party elite and Fanatics subscribers will collide in an arena less posh than a beach house but more alive than the e-commerce experience.

The Jacob Javits Convention Center, located in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. (Photo by: Deb Cohn-Orbach/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The first-ever Fanatics Fan Fest will put Tom Brady and faithful football fans in the same room. Ric Flair ‘woo’ calls will ascend from one side of the space while SEC chants refract from the other.

It will all take place right before back-to-school shopping, as the August dates align perfectly with basketball, hockey, and students enjoying their offseason. Add in the fact that football kicks off that same month and you have the perfect blitz in the perfect market.

“New York City just felt natural,” Fensterman said. “We wanted to do it in a major media market and this is Fanatics’ home. There never was really a debate, we just knew New York City was where we wanted to launch this concept.”

In due time, Fanatics Fest will travel to new locations with new athletes and new activations. It will be no different than Comic-Con coming into its own in the 2010s, adding cities and A-list attendees.

But first, Fanatics must make their mark in NYC this August.

“If we can get this big, tentpole concept right? It’s scalable,” said Fensterman. “We can do another one in the US and it could be exportable to different key markets across the world where you’re accessing different fans, brands, leagues, and markets. [This year] is about operating and testing these concepts live to see how fans react and what they like. We’ll lean into the best stuff, scale, and iterate.”

Much like Comic-Con in 2023, it’s the bossman getting busy by touching soil. Not even halfway into the year, Rubin is invested in activating on the ground and leveraging relationships to build his brand.

In April, the Fanatics founder was on hand in Philadelphia for WWE World and across the country with Travis Scott to promote the Cactus Jack x Mitchell & Ness ‘Jack Goes Back to College’ Collection across campuses.

via Cactus Jack

While in Austin, it was clear that Scott sees Rubin as much more than a businessman but an innovator in the space.

“He pushes the idea of fandom coming alive,” Scott said while on stage with Rubin at the University of Texas.

Speaking on fandom through a unique lens, Scott stated that Rubin has ‘one of the most important jobs in society.’ The comment may sound somewhat like hyperbole, but the acclaimed artist dove into Rubin’s role in threading the connective tissue of sports and society.

“Fandom is the ultra stress reliever,” Scott continued. “It’s indoctrinated and passed down from generation to generation. [Michael has] an important job to curate households and community.”

With Fanatics Fest NYC, Rubin has the chance to not just curate a community but build a world. He’ll have the opportunity to reach fans of all ages and interests in one space.

While he’s been doing it for years online, his IRL introduction could be the brand’s biggest feat yet.

“There isn’t anything that’s single-platform that brings a huge amount of fandom, media, brands, and athletes all together to talk about the state of sports to leverage the gravitas of the entire space,” said Fensterman.

“Our hope is that Fanatics Festival will be that.”

Tickets are on sale now at fanaticsevents.com/ffnyc.

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Ian Stonebrook

Ian Stonebrook is a Staff Writer covering culture, sports, and fashion for Boardroom. Prior to signing on, Ian spent a decade at Nice Kicks as a writer and editor. Over the course of his career, he's been published by the likes of Complex, Jordan Brand, GOAT, Cali BBQ Media, SoleSavy, and 19Nine. Ian spends all his free time hooping and he's heard on multiple occasions that Drake and Nas have read his work, so that's pretty tight.