Fuck Fanatics And Fuck Michael Rubin
1:04 PM EDT on September 14, 2023
Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday at Defector during the NFL season. Got something you wanna contribute? Email the Roo. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, through here.
I’m gonna tell you a story you’ve heard before. You’ve probably already lived it yourself. But it’s a story worth telling again and again, to anyone you can find, because it’s a critical reminder that Fanatics is an awful company run by an even worse man.
A year ago, prior to the NFL season, I wanted to buy a jersey. I like wearing jerseys on game day because it makes me feel like a professional football player, even though I’m thousands of miles away from being one. I went to NFL Shop, because it was easy, because its items are officially licensed, and because I got my last jersey from there. The old jersey, a Harrison Smith road jersey made by Nike, is a good jersey. It has a name plate. It has mesh panels on each side. It has proper stitching. It’s a jersey. It does the job that jerseys are meant to do. I look ridiculous when I wear it, but I feel fantastic.
So I went to NFL Shop again, figuring that I’d get the same quality jersey I had before. I ordered a Justin Jefferson home jersey. When it came in the mail, I was overjoyed. Truly ready for some football. I opened the package, and it was a shirsey. Clear as day. Made of the same, sweat-wicking, 100 percent polyester fabric you’d find in an Under Armour workout shirt. No name plate. No mesh. No proper stitching. The numbers and names were part of the fabric rather than appended onto it.
But I’d paid $100 for this “jersey,” which is cheap as far as jerseys go but still $100. So rather than spit on this fake-ass Justin jersey, I talked myself into it. Wow, I thought to myself, I guess they make game jerseys different now. I deluded myself into thinking this really was a jersey and not a shirsey … so much so that I wrote here, on Defector, of my recent discovery in on-field apparel innovation. I really thought players wore this shit. Also, the shirsey was comfortable, and I was too lazy to return it. So I wore it. But in the back of my mind, I still suspected—knew, really—that it wasn’t the real thing.
This is because it wasn’t.
In between me buying the Smith jersey and the Jefferson jersey, a company called Fanatics took control of NFL Shop and all of the merchandise sold within it. While Nike makes the actual uniforms that NFL players wear—and what I would like to wear—Fanatics is now the only company from which you can buy the consumer version of the NFL’s onfield apparel. You can also buy a retro uni from the once-beloved Mitchell & Ness for $300-plus, but guess who bought that company a year ago? And guess who also bought Topps? And guess who controls all of the official merch retailing for not just the NFL, but also for the NBA, the NHL, major college football, and MLB? If you love a team in any major American sport, and you’d like to buy something to commemorate the sacred bond you share with it, you have little recourse but to go through Fanatics and CEO Michael Rubin, the incredible dipshit who runs it:
As of a year ago, Fanatics was valued at an estimated $31 billion, and it might be worth even more now as it eats up every last parcel of swag real estate, including NFTs (hence the “might” earlier in this sentence). For this, The Athletic named Rubin its “Sports Business Person Of The Year,” a title which should not exist, in 2022:
Rubin and Fanatics believe there is more business to do and want to be all things to all sports consumers.
“I like his comments when he says wants to be everything for the consumer,” (former ESPN vice president of sales Larry) Mann said. “All the passion points of a sports consumer, he wants to touch. I find that to be really unique.”
Oh, you find it unique that a businessman wants to be the only option for customers? Yeah that’s pretty fucking novel there, Larry. Real paradigm disruption.
Rubin’s personal story is the same fake bootstraps drivel you’ve heard a million times. He opened his first shop when he was a teen, with daddy’s name on the lease. He went to Villanofun for five minutes but dropped out because he was just too darn ambitious to waste his time studying the humanities; Peter Thiel smiled at him from his luxury box in hell. From there, Rubin got into selling overstocked athletic equipment to retailers looking for easy discount items to put on the shelf. A few years after that—HEY PRESTO!—he was a billionaire, even becoming a minority owner of the Philadelphia 76ers in the process. Truly inspiring shit.
At no point in Rubin’s story will you hear about him making products that consumers like. Instead, you’ll hear about his remarkable talent for schmoozing, as told by those he has schmoozed:
He started pitching the sports leagues when he was running G.S.I., and continued as he built Fanatics. “Michael specializes in relationships,” said Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner who has been making deals on behalf of the league with Mr. Rubin for years. “Michael is always ‘on,’ and there is no distinction for him between work and pleasure.”
That networking prowess has paid off, obscenely. Rubin has so fully ingratiated himself with the leagues, the unions, the shoe companies, and some of our worst hip-hop moguls that he is now treated as vital to all of them.
No wonder all of Brady’s products suck, too.
There are a lot of monopolies in America today, but Rubin owns what is somehow the most irritating one. He turned Fanatics into a behemoth not by selling quality products at a fair price. That style of business leadership died many years ago. Instead, he made it easy for leagues to turn around swag quickly (although not always) and cheaply; he took a manufacturing load off of Nike’s back; and then he threw a shitty white party to celebrate. The jerseys are beside the point. This man may as well be selling fucking cardboard, for all he cares.
And Fanatics apparel may as well be made of it. Do you know what no “Fanatics Experience” site, like NFL Shop, has? Reviews. I can find reviews for any other product sold at its official online retailer: books, movies, garden hoses, museums, you name it. Reviews are an easy way to give customers a voice, and to stand behind your product. But thanks to its airtight licensing agreements, Fanatics doesn’t have to stand by its products at all. Look at this shit. Are you fucking kidding me?
This is why the NFL Shop features no reviews of any kind: because all of those reviews would be negative. Every sports fan in America hates this company. In fact, my shirsey represents a rare GOOD consumer experience with Fanatics, because it didn’t fall apart in the washing machine. The only people who might give a five-star review to my shirsey are plants and aspiring Darren Rovells who admire Rubin for building a successful brand that’s hollow at its core. No one likes your shit, Michael. No one. It’s fucking garbage. You know this. You also don’t care, because you’re too busy eating shrimp cocktail with Robert Kraft at some overpriced hotel bar.
I wanted to buy another jersey prior to this coming season. In fact, I had designs on expanding my merch habit beyond just my own team. But everywhere I tried to do either of those things, I was met with the dreaded “A Fanatics Experience” emblem looming atop the storefront. I got it at the NFL Shop, of course. I got it at the MLB Shop. I flew to Minneapolis and got it not just at the official team store in the Mall of America, but also at every merchandising stand in the stadium. The jersey-like jerseys I did see for sale in Minnesota cost a mint and were limited to just a handful of familiar names. No deep cuts. I went to Nike’s online store, but the jerseys there were also clearly made by Rubin’s grift shop. I tried looking on eBay but all of the items were lousy. I looked at Etsy and half the jerseys there were bedazzled.
Desperate, I asked Twitter for help. You should never ask Twitter for anything, because everyone on Twitter is an asshole who lives in eternal joke mode, myself included. But more than a few earnest people told me to go to DHgate, a Chinese e-commerce middleman that is shady as all fuck. But their jerseys were $30 a pop, so I took a big chance at the high school dance and bought not one jersey, but three.
Those jerseys arrived in the mail three days ago. I opened the package, half expecting to see three Super Bowl XXV Champion Buffalo Bills t-shirts instead of what I’d ordered. But no, I got jerseys instead. Real jerseys. The collars were a little wonky, but they had real numerals, real name plates, proper stitching, and real mesh. They were made in Honduras, just as my Fanatics jersey was, and yet they were light years ahead of Fanatics in terms of quality.
Were these jerseys manufactured with the expressed written consent of Roger Goodell and the NFL? Not a chance. Did the earth’s atmosphere warm by 1°C thanks to their voyage from Honduras to China and then to me? Probably. Did two child laborers die while making them in a sweatshop? Again, probably. But still, such craftsmanship! I love just looking at these stupid jerseys. A few stitches are loose on one of the name plates, and I don’t even care. At least it’s a fucking name plate. At least when I put that jersey on, I feel like a football player again. That’s all I wanted, and not a lot to ask. My team is in dire shape, by the way … so much so that I damn near had a nervous breakdown after they lost to Baker Mayfield on Sunday. These jerseys erased all of that angst immediately. I was happy again. Results for your DHGate purchase will most certainly vary. I’ve heard horror stories. But in my case, I got what I paid for, which is more than I can say anytime I visit a Fanatics storefront.
Michael Rubin has created an empire of authorized knockoffs that are worse than actual knockoffs. That’s a damning indictment not just of him, but of the NFL, and of a retail-industrial complex that would rather force customers to buy bad products rather than make ones that they actually want. I would like Michael Rubin to reckon with what he’s wrought, but that will never happen because Rubin has set everything up so that he never has to answer for his shoddy legacy. All he has to do is cut off more of your choices and then trade fist bumps with Meek Mill. I hope he gets his balls caught in a sewing machine. Fuck him eternally.
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Chiefs at Jaguars: After both Andy Reid and Bill Belichick went for it on fourth-and-long late last week—down, but with their full complement of timeouts and the two-minute warning still to go—is it possible that punting is now cool again?
[marinates in the idea for a second]
No. No, it’s still not cool. And who says I wanted either of these men to succeed? Much more fun to watch them go for it and eat shit quick as a wink.
Ravens at Bengals: I know that this game and Chiefs-Jags aren’t necessarily appointment viewing—especially given that Kansas City’s wideout room is nothing but slobs—but it’s a rough slate this week. I have to grade it on a curve. Besides, the throwgasm scale is wrong a LOT. Some one ‘gasm affair down below will end up being a fantasy orgy. Happens every week. I will NEVER be able to accurately predict which game it will be.
49ers at Rams: Let’s check in on Rams rookie QB Stetson Bennett, who just got put on the reserve/non-football illness list:
McVay would not disclose specifics on Bennett's situation, but said it is not related to the right shoulder injury he was dealing with last week.
"Out of respect for him and the situation, I'm going to leave all the specifics and particulars in-house," McVay said. "And I want to be able to do that out of respect for that situation, so I'm not going to really have any follow-up information or anything that I'll give in that regards."
You can’t see me right now, but I’m pantomiming holding a bottle of Southern Comfort over my head and dousing my face with it. I will edit this joke out of the post if it turns out that Stetson Bennett has Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Dolphins at Patriots
Chargers at Titans
Packers at Falcons
Seahawks at Lions
Raiders at Bills
Saints at Panthers: This game, along with the one below, is part of an MNF doubleheader this week. In fact, you’re about to get two straight weeks of concurrent MNF games, with Buck/Aikman handling the ABC telecast (that’s Browns-Steelers) and Chris Fowler, Dan Orlovsky, and Louis Riddick handling this one. Take a shot anytime Orlovsky commandeers the telestrator and yells I WANT YOU TO LOOK AT THIS THROW. You’ll be dead by 9 p.m.
Browns at Steelers: If the Browns really do turn out to be good this season, I think we’ll agree to pretend that it never happened. Under any other circumstances, I would’ve been elated that the Browns kicked the shit out of the AFC North favorites last week. Now I’d just soon pretend that game took place on the fucking moon.
Jets at Cowboys
Vikings at Eagles
Colts at Texans
Commanders at Broncos
Giants at Cardinals: I know that Michael Kay already apologized to Brian Daboll for throwing a hissy fit over the Giants head coach throwing what turned out to be a children’s birthday party the day before getting shut out by the Cowboys. (What if Daboll had thrown that party on a BOAT? What would Mister Mara say?!) But his little idiot escapade shows that, despite the Giants’ recent success, absolutely nothing will stop the greater New York media from being the Big Blue Fun Police anyway. Working for this organization is like attending a fucking boarding school.
Bears at Bucs
Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall
“Animals,” by Architects! Featuring a goddamn orchestra! Always tricky business when you dabble in orchestral metal, but these filthy British lads do it with elan. From Fred:
“Animals” comes with a warning at the start of the video about epilepsy (and massive honking riffage, presumably) before taking you into a beautiful orchestral intro and then hitting you with RIFFS and PERCUSSION and HORNS. It would truly make great intro music to a football game, or a fucking James Bond movie. It has all the pomp and circumstance the NFL wants associated with their brand, but with real musicians, relentless riffage and a professional musician playing a giant sheet of metal with a hammer.
Literal heavy metal. I approve.
Eric Adams’s Lock Of The Week: Jaguars (+3.5) over Chiefs
“Now I’ve lived in Jacksonville my whole life, and lemme tell you: they love their Robert Duvall! You hear them call out his name everywhere you go! They say Robert DUUUUVALL, and that’s fun to me because, you know, some people tell me that I’m the Godfather of Jacksonville. And like the Godfather, my powerful friends wouldn’t like me if I were into drugs. That’s why living in a country so close to Mexico is a CRISIS for us all. Thus Godfather won’t stand for it.”
[puts some shredded cheddar cheese on a snow cone and then eats it]
2023 Record: 1-0
Great Moments In Poop History
Reader Russell sends in this story I call LAKE POOBEGONE:
We started the day with a big breakfast at a local diner (not my normal fare) and then got out onto the lake, where we took turns water skiing. After several hours, we decided we needed a break, so we tied off at the local marina and I took them to my absolute favorite place for lunch: a sketchy little taqueria.
We headed back out on the lake and a friend of a friend who owned the boat decided that we should switch to tubing. We took turns desperately clinging to the tube while our buddies in the boat grew increasingly sadistic in their efforts to provide a rough ride. During my turn, I could feel the churning in my guts. After we had each done about 20 minutes on the torture tube, I got a call from my 16-year-old daughter. She’d finished school and wanted to come out on the boat. We met her at a nearby boat ramp (not the marina, no public restroom). She was going to the football game that night, so she didn't want to get wet. So my buddies decided that I could go back on the tube and they'd let her drive.
I clung to that tube for about five minutes while my daughter sought out bigger and bigger waves to drag me over. I was pretty proud of myself for hanging in there when she went into a power turn that pulled me outside of the wake at what felt like 50mph. The tube tossed me off and I skipped over the surface of the water like a well-thrown stone. And it was when I came to a stop that I realized my time renting those tacos was over.
Suspended by my life vest, I yanked my shorts to half mast and gave a shove. Relief! As the boat came around to pick me up, I pulled my shorts back in place and figured I'd gotten away with it. But just as the boat approached I looked to my right and beheld a long, thin turd, with a smaller one floating nearby.
I said nothing, but calmly swam to the ladder. Nobody wanted to ride anymore, so we just floated there as my buddy deflated the tube. I didn't look too closely, but I knew the turd was still floating next to us. Fifteen minutes later, we were ready to call it a day when the boat owner decided he would ski back to the marina. Again, I said nothing as he put on his skis and jumped into the water. It was my turn to drive, and I punched that thing as hard as I could to get him away from that area of the lake.
The perfect getaway sir. I commend you.
Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week
Bucanero Fuerte! The “Fuerte” means STRONG! From Mattie:
Like many Latin American countries, most beer in Cuba is basically light lagers. The most popular Cuban made beer is only 4.9% ABV (Cristal). So this bad boy, Bucanero Fuerte, comes in a hefty 5.4%. Hence the 'fuerte' designation. Doesn't taste all that bad, since it's pretty weak by American standards. And goes down like water. Quite refreshing, since it's always 86 degrees-plus every day in Cuba. I heard rumor that there was a dark beer somewhere in this country, but every time I asked for one they would bring me Bucanero and then make some joke that I look like a dude who drinks a strong beer (I don't). Anywho, I thought you'd like the can, and maybe we can find a way to smuggle it into Raymond James Stadium via intertube. Cheers.
Oh I like the can. Makes me want to steal all yer gold dubloons! YARRRGHHH MATEY-ITO!
Gameday Movie Of The Week For Cardinals Fans
Crank, which I hadn’t seen until last week. This was a grave oversight on my part because, as those of you who have seen Crank know, it’s the greatest movie ever made. Here’s an action flick that, like Sisu, understands just how ludicrous it is and then milks that fact for all its worth. Crank has exploding birds, panic-fucking in public, a shady Vegas doctor who somehow makes the premise believable enough for me to buy in, and an ending straight out of Looney Tunes. Also, it’s the greatest performance of Jason Statham’s career (until I see Crank 2, which will be very soon). I know that Jason Statham plays Jason Statham in every movie he’s in, but this time he plays a Jason Statham who's occasionally VERY freaked out. Not just Oscar-worthy, but Oscar-mandatory. I loved every goddamn second of this film. A sincere four stars.
Gratuitous Simpsons Quote
“Don't worry, son. Just because you're trapped in a hole doesn't mean you can't live a rich and full life.”
Enjoy the games, everyone.