Fanatics opened its Boulder office, which handles technology operations, one year ago.

Why online sports retailer Fanatics chose Boulder for its tech hub

BOULDER — Fanatics Inc. might be thought of as a sports merchandising giant or as a manufacturer, but at its heart, the e-commerce business thinks of itself as a tech company.

Its tech operations are located in Boulder, which has been open for a year and is growing rapidly.

Fanatics manufactures sports apparel and memorabilia for more than 150 sports teams, including the Denver Broncos.

“Fanatics is a tech company at heart,” said Jim Oxenhandler, director of engineering for Fanatics. “Everything we’re doing is deep in technology. We have multiple locations, but here in Boulder, we’re concentrating on creating innovative tech by creating a seamless supply-chain system.”

Fanatics operates more than 300 online and offline stores, including managing ecommerce for all major professional sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA, MLB and others, as well as media companies such as NBC Sports. Fanatics handles ecommerce and retail for more than 150 collegiate and professional sports teams, including the Denver Broncos, the Colorado Rockies and the Colorado Avalanche. The company also works for international teams and leagues.

While manufacturing sports apparel and memorabilia on that scale is challenging, creating and managing the online resources to manufacture those goods is just as difficult.

That’s where Oxenhandler and the Boulder team come in.

Fanatics tries to have a fun atmosphere in its office, conducive to the sports merchandising it does.

Take an event such as  the Super Bowl, where shirts and memorabilia commemorating the winner are ordered immediately by fans and even worn by players as soon as the game is over. It used to be that companies had to use the wasteful method of printing goods for both teams, never selling the items with the losing team on it.

Using technology, there’s a better way.

“When the Super Bowl ends, we have to have products in trucks that night,” Oxenhandler said. “It’s a very interesting problem to have. We use predictive analytics and data mining to identify trends on how much [goods] to create.”

The company does print a limited amount of apparel with both teams as potential winners to have on-site to give to the winning team for the television broadcast. But the rest is being manufactured as the event is wrapping up so they can be put on trucks and shipped overnight.

Manufacturing that night isn’t the only big task going on for Fanatics. Oxenhandler said that during any major event, such as the Super Bowl, there are rooms full of Fanatics’ data scientists, engineers and product managers making sure that all the correct imagery and items are up on e-commerce sites for the team, NFL, Fanatics and other sports retailers. Rooms at its locations in Boulder, Jacksonville, Fla., and the Bay area in California with 30 to 40 people total are at the ready during those major sporting events.

“Technology comes into play,” he said. “We have systems built to quickly and efficiently get information out on the websites right away.”

Fanatics is responsible for running more than 300 partner websites, including those for all of the major sporting leagues, hundreds of professional and college teams and even some local sports teams.

Putting its technology hub in Boulder made sense to Fanatics, Oxenhandler said.

“There’s so much amazing tech talent here,” he said. “The talent pool is so large and tailored to our industry anyway, it’s a no brainer. Finding someone who likes tech and sports, you can throw a rock and hit 30. This market serves us very well.”

The company was named Business Insider’s No. 12 best place to work for 2017.

When Fanatics opened last year, there were 18 people in it. Now, it’s up to 30 and should be double its original employee count by the end of the summer.

“We’re so close to CU, Mines and CSU,” Oxenhandler said. “It gives us a really good pool to draw from.”

That tech talent will be useful for the challenges Fanatics faces, such as integrating the platforms and supply chain of its recent acquisitions, both international and domestic.

“We’re entering into wholesale, which is a new piece of business we’re building a platform for,” he said. “We’re doing that at a speed that is necessary for sports, and it’s a whole lot of fun. It’s very interesting. It keeps people coming to work here.”