In the last five years or so, subscription boxes have become a mainstay in American commerce culture. Online shopping is now second nature, and boxed subscriptions take it even further. The appeal is having merchandise, whether frivolous or necessary, appear at your door on a regular basis without having to re-order or lift a finger. The options are limitless – groceries, beauty products, pet supplies, grooming devices, exotic coffee beans.
Enter Loot Crate. When CEO and co-founder Chris Davis wanted in on the subscription action, he put his fandoms first. Los Angeles-based Loot Crate self-proclaims to be a "geek subscription box for gamers and nerds," and since founding in 2012 they have delivered more than 14 million boxes to customers around the world. They tout more than 650,000 subscribers and 20 different options, with crates specific to everything from anime and gaming to Marvel and Harry Potter.
Their merch-stuffed boxes average about $40, and the partnerships Loot Crate forms with the companies behind the fandoms allows them to design unique products in-house, appealing to collectors and fans of all levels.
But once they conquered the pop culture fandom space, they wanted more. In March 2017, Loot Crate announced the launch of Sports Crate, a division of the company but one with separate facilities, employees and branding. They partnered with Major League Baseball to create subscription boxes for fans of 10 of the 30 MLB teams. There will be five boxes delivered throughout the regular season that contain 4-5 items of team-specific gear. Expect figurines, apparel and other team-emblazoned products.
Davis spoke with Crain's about all things Crate-worthy and what the future holds for what has already become a major revelation in the world of professional sports merchandise.
Q: How did Loot Crate get started, and when did Sports Crate come up?
A: We launched [Loot Crate] in 2012 and we launched with a single product. The goal was to deliver exclusive and epic gear on a monthly basis – to kind of be Comic Con in a box. It was much earlier than the life cycle of subscription commerce companies and no one had really done it for the fan, pop culture space. We were really focused on these themed, monthly experiences that were curated across products, and there was no personalization. It was really just what was relevant, interesting and timely.
But as we continued to expand we said, “Hey, the core of our business is really determining what is a typically transactional relationship on the commerce side into an experience for fans, and we know we can do that for entertainment pop culture. We have a lot of sports fans in the building as well, let’s take that same ‘fan first, experience first’ subscription commerce approach to Major League Baseball.”
So a month and a half ago we launched Sports Crate as a separate brand from Loot Crate. We’re basically putting together exclusive gear centered around 10 teams to launch. We’re working with the teams and a certain number of subscribers will win on-field, in-stadium experiences, meet players and get exclusive signed gear.
Q: Why did you land on professional sports? It seems to be quite a different market than what Loot Crate is used to.
A: We knew that it would be really exciting for sports fans to have something similar. And our whole principle is we have an amazing team of designers and curators on the Loot Crate side of the business that are experts and deep in the fandoms. So when we were thinking about launching with MLB, we were thinking how we could do this in a way that would bring that same depth and authenticity we brought when we were deep into our favorite childhood entertainment franchises. We built out a separate team internally to do that, and it is diehard sports fans.
Q: Why baseball first? Were you also pitching to NFL or NBA at the same time?
A: That was just where we started internally. We think of Sports Crate expanding beyond just baseball in the long run. But that was an obvious starting point for a lot of us, and our office is literally four minutes from Dodgers Stadium. So it’s top of the mind, and we’re big fans of baseball.
Q: Will the expansion into other sports, and the remaining 20 MLB teams, be dependent on how these first 10 teams sell?
A: We’re definitely in launch mode and learning. When you think about one of our Loot gaming products, there’s a huge global audience there. I think we’re trying to figure out, in an individual team market, how many subscribers can we really draw into the experience. So we’re learning a ton about different markets and the sizing, but I think we know that we’re planning on expanding.
Q: Do you have a second sport at the front of your mind that will be up next once you conquer baseball?
A: Probably just the intuitive ones, but we don’t have any planned announcements right now on new sports. But basically any of the major leagues have fans that, if you think about what their alternatives are for merchandise purchasing and in-home experiences, it’s a very limited set of opportunities unless you want to go search through an ecommerce store or go to a team store. I think there’s a lot of opportunities with all the teams to bring this model and bring something pretty special.
Q: This is already proving to be a big draw with collectors because Sports Crate offers completely unique merchandise. How did that work out?
A: Our curators and product designers try to think of things that you would never find in retail that are fun. We can do products that you might never buy for yourself, but are amazingly fun to own as a gift. So we can really play with unique product development.
We do in-house product development and then we work with MLB licensees. And we’re partnering with folks like Sports Illustrated and others that develop unique products. So we do both. We find the best that’s already out there from existing partners and then develop original content ourselves, too.
Q: The initial announcement enticed people by saying the boxes would be available on a “first-come, first-served” basis, indicating that they might sell out. Is this still true? Have any teams sold out?
A: We have not sold out yet, but we manage inventory on these products tightly to ensure their collectability, so supplies will be limited.
Q: Will there be playoff boxes for teams that make it to the postseason? What if one or two of them go to the World Series? A championship box?
A: This is something that we have the opportunity to do with MLB, but we haven't committed to anything yet.
Q: Some of the players are endorsing Sports Crate and talking about it on social media. Was there a plan to partner with at least one player on each of the first 10 teams?
A: Yes, and it’s been great. We’ve been working with the league and the teams and they’ve been helping us connect with the players. And the Players’ Association has been really great. So we’re going to be working with the players and the teams, and we’ve gotten on a lot of the team social media channels. We want to work really closely with them and feel like an extension of the team and they’ve been great working with us so far.
Q: Are you prepared for expansion? It goes without saying that this could very big in the world of sports.
A: We’re working on it. We’re definitely as ready as you can be. But we have a pretty big operation [already at Loot Crate] and about 20 different subscription lines. We’re shipping out over 650,000 subscription boxes a month, so we have a big infrastructure that’s used to bigger scale. And it will be able to help scale up a new group.
Follow Sports Crate on Twitter @SportsCrate