Sports merchandise giant Fanatics expands new Tampa design hub

Donteea Dye, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player, uses a trek machine to heat-seal neck labels on a shirt during an externship program at Fanatics in Tampa. (Courtesy of Fanatics)
Donteea Dye, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player, uses a trek machine to heat-seal neck labels on a shirt during an externship program at Fanatics in Tampa. (Courtesy of Fanatics)
Published Mar. 7, 2018

TAMPA — During the football season, 23-year-old Joshua Dobbs is a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

During the offseason? He's a college graduate with a degree in aerospace engineering and another in business exploring what life might look like after the NFL.

For the last three years the sports merchandising company Fanatics, Inc., which makes jerseys and fan gear, has hosted an externship program for football players like Dobbs.

This year part of that three-week program included a stop in Tampa, where Fanatics is expanding its design headquarters after acquiring Majestic Athletic and its Linebaugh Avenue offices about a year ago.

The company has plans to make up to 100 local hires as it creates its new Tampa Bay footprint.

"We're going to double down on Tampa," said president of Fanatics Brands Raphael Peck. "We really want to help put Tampa on the map as part of a product creation and merchandising state. Not unlike what you see in Boston, New York and Portland, Oregon."

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At the end of February, Dobbs and six other players got a front-row seat to see how the leader in sports apparel is growing into its new setup in Tampa Bay.

The entire Fanatics Brands team — the division of the company that comes up with product designs and plans their creation and distribution — works out of the Tampa Majestic offices.

That's about 500 people, Peck said.

Even before the acquisition, it was clear things were changing for Majestic's parent VF Corp. after it lost its long-held uniform contract with Major League Baseball to Fanatics and Under Armour.

Shortly after, VF announced in April it would sell its Licensed Sports Group business, including Majestic, to Fanatics.

Fanatics, which has its East Coast headquarters in Jacksonville, employs about 2,500 people across Florida. It also has international headquarters in England and a West Coast HQ in California.

While in Tampa, Dobbs and the other visiting players got to design their own products and get a close look at the office's screen printing facility.

Before the sale, Tampa was the hub for Majestic's wholesale products.

"Fanatics is a company every year that has grown and re-branded itself and found a way to keep impacting the sports merchandising market," Dobbs said.

Dobbs said he was able to study the company's multiple e-commerce platforms and learn how it moves some products from concept to fans' hands in as few as 12 weeks.

Peck said the company continues to work on combining cultures since the buyout. It added on to the offices making the Tampa location among the largest across the cooperation.

He said he expects the Tampa office to hire between 80 and 100 employees in the next 12 months.

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"We'd like to be a recruiting hub for designers and product developers," Peck said. "Frankly, we'll be showing the best of Tampa off, the quality of life."

As the Tampa Bay Lightning moves closer to the playoffs, the Fanatics' team in Tampa is at work creating a new line of NHL fan gear, NHL replica jerseys and Stanley Cup championship head gear.

"Those are just some of the great things coming out of Florida," Peck said.

Contact Sara DiNatale at Follow @sara_dinatale.