LONDON: US e-commerce specialist Fanatics has signed a kit-manufacturing deal with the UK football team Aston Villa in a move that could signal a major shift in the model of UK sports sponsorship that has seen big brands consolidate around big clubs.

The company, which is far better known in the US where it operates merchandising for big American leagues including the NBA, NFL, and MLS, will not be branding the new Villa kits, according to Bloomberg, and has instead paid for exclusive licensing rights for all merchandise.

So rather than put its own logo on shirts, Fanatics is able to sell on separate rights deals for each piece of merchandise.

In a traditional kit deal, the likes of Nike or Adidas offer design and marketing capability but do not generally manufacture the kits. In the case of Fanatics, the e-commerce specialist controls the whole value chain, from manufacture, to distribution, to sales back-end.

Fanatics’ vertical integration cuts out middle men, while also conferring some of the benefits of fast fashion’s responsiveness.

Currently placed towards the top of English football’s second tier, Aston Villa’s prospects of re-entering the Premier League are relatively strong, a development which could supercharge demand for shirts. not easily met if manufacturing is outsourced.

Fanatics’ system currently powers two Adidas-sponsored clubs, Real Madrid in Spain and Manchester United in the UK – two of the biggest global clubs with huge followings – as well basketball team the Chicago Bulls and NFL side the Philadelphia Eagles.

Founded in 1995, the retailer has grown relatively quietly, achieving a $3bn valuation back in 2013. By September of 2017, the company closed a funding round worth $1bn, led by SoftBank Group’s Vision Fund, taking the company’s valuation up to $4.5bn.

Sourced from Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Reuters; additional content by WARC staff