By Manya Saini and Krystal Hu
Oct 21 (Reuters) - Candy Digital, a non-fungible token (NFT) startup launched by sports merchandise retailer Fanatics, has raised fresh capital at a valuation of $1.5 billion from investors led by Insight Partners and SoftBank Vision Fund 2.
An NFT is a kind of crypto asset that records ownership of digital items. Candy Digital is currently building Major League Baseball's (MLB) official NFT ecosystem that will enable sports fans and collectors to buy, trade and share officially licensed digital tokens.
The $100-million Series A round also drew investments from Athletes Syndicate in partnership with Chaos Ventures, which includes current and retired players from MLB, National Football League and National Basketball Association, and NFL Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
Candy Digital was launched earlier this year by Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin, ex-hedge fund manager and crypto billionaire Mike Novogratz, and serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk.
Later this month, the company will unveil a platform for fans and collectors to buy, sell and trade its NFT products, which have so far been released in partnership with MLB and a roster of college athletes.
The financing round comes at a time when Fanatics, the world's biggest licensed sports merchandise retailer, is rapidly expanding its offerings to include online betting, trading cards and NFTs as part of its broader strategy to build a global digital sports platform.
In September, Fanatics raised $350 million at a valuation of $10.4 billion for a newly launched trading cards business. The rapidly-growing sports merchandise retailer, which is considering an IPO next year, was last valued at $18 billion.
Earlier this year, Fanatics said it was expanding into China with a private equity firm. (Reporting by Krystal Hu in New York and Manya Saini in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.)