SAFE: Rubin's Fanatics, Under Armour deal saves 600 baseball jobs at Pa. factory

PHILS04
A gathering of Phillies, in uniforms that will continue to be made in Easton.

Fanatics, the pro- and college-team gear sales group owned by the Conshohocken-based online-retail mogul Michael Rubin, has agreed to purchase VF Corp.'s Licensed Sports Group and its Majestic factory in Palmer Township near Easton, and to keep the 600-worker plant busy making major-league baseball uniforms and fan gear under a deal with Under Armour Inc.

Workers at the factory, a remnant of the clothing industry that once employed hundreds of thousands in Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley, and other parts of eastern Pennsylvania, saw their future in doubt when VF put Majestic up for sale a year ago. VF owns the North Face, Timberland, Wrangler, and Lee brands, among others.

Tension rose in December when the company lost its contract to supply uniforms to major-league baseball. The pros instead gave the business to Under Armour, starting in 2020. 

While Majestic officials urged Under Armour to subcontract work to the plant, and workers mobilized to pressure baseball into keeping the work in Pennsylvania, Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. appealed to President Trump to move some of his family's clothing-manufacturing contracts with foreign companies to Majestic.

But on Tuesday, Under Armour said in a statement that it has agreed to "continuing the longstanding tradition of major-league baseball's on-field uniforms being built by the dedicated workers of Easton, Pennsylvania, home of Majestic’s facility. The men and women of Easton will continue to play a major role in building Under Armour’s MLB team apparel business."

Gov. Wolf and baseball commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. visited the Easton plant to congratulate Majestic workers on the deal.

Under Armour shares fell 1.8 percent in trading Tuesday, to $18.02. The stock has lost more than half its value since last fall, as the bankruptcy of Sports Authority and declining sales at other retail chains have eaten into the sportswear-maker's profits.

The chains'  loss has been Fanatics founder Rubin's gain: He has built a series of digital retailing companies, advertising Fanatics on pay-TV sports networks and the internet to sell fan gear directly in the internet and smartphone era.

Members of Workers United, the Service Employees' International Union affiliate that represents sewing workers, embroiderers, and packers at the plant, cheered the deal. In a statement, the union praised the "support and solidarity" shown by another labor union — the Major League Players' Association — whose leaders spoke up for keeping uniform production at the plant instead of moving it overseas or to a cheap nonunion contractor.

"We have a good working relationship with Majestic, and we are looking forward to continuing that with Fanatics," Jozena Oliver, a Workers United shop steward who works at Majestic, said in a statement distributed by the union.

"We applaud MLB's decision; it's the right decision," added coworker Sam Patti. "As my grandma would say, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' "

In 2011, Rubin sold his GSI Commerce to eBay for $2.4 billion and bought full control of Fanatics later that year. He hired managers from Comcast, Orbitz, and other companies and cut deals with Comcast's NBC and other cable networks to boost sales.

Fanatics has principal offices in Jacksonville, Fla., and San Mateo, Calif. VF, which was formerly based in Reading (and ran clothing mills on the city's west side, in the long brick sheds where VF Outlet retail stores were later located), is headquartered in Greensboro, N.C. Majestic is based in Tampa, Fla.

Seller VF and buyer Fanatics did not disclose terms of the deal.

In 2015, the NBA hired Fanatics to run its New York store on Fifth Avenue. Besides pro baseball, Fanatics operates e-commerce sales channels for products featuring the approved logos of Major League Soccer, the NBA, NFL, NASCAR, and the Professional Golf Association.

Fanatics sells gear emblazoned with the logos of more than 200 pro and college teams, such as the New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Jose Sharks, Notre DameAlabama, Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Manchester City, among other popular brands.

More on Michael Rubin's GSI and successor firms: eBay purchase; Kynetic, ShopRunner, and China's Alibaba; Fanatics-Kitbag mergereBay Enterprise break-up and sale; successor Radial;   successor Pepperjam; Fanatics and the new retail.