Founder and CEO completely blindsided by sale of Steiner Sports to rival

Last month’s sale of Steiner Sports Memorabilia came as a complete surprise — including to its controversial founder and CEO, Brandon Steiner.

Steiner — who, in addition to making a fortune off his savvy trading of sports collectibles, has weathered some nasty legal battles with disgruntled customers — had left the office for a Yankee-Red Sox game on May 31 when he got the surprise call that his company had been sold, sources told The Post.

After leaving Yankee Stadium, Steiner rushed to Steiner Sports’ New Rochelle warehouse — where he encountered armed guards, according to sources. Warehouse employees said they last saw Steiner as the guards were escorting him off the premises.

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Steiner declined to comment on the warehouse incident or sale of his company’s assets.

Adding insult to injury, insiders said Steiner learned that most of his company’s inventory and intellectual property had been sold to Michael Rubin, the billionaire owner of Fanatics, a licensed-sportswear apparel maker based in Jacksonville, Fla.

That was an especially bitter pill, as the 59-year-old Steiner had recently been telling staff that a deal was in the works to sell Steiner’s business to concession-stand operator Legends.

The idea was that at least some employees would keep their jobs, according to sources. Instead, Steiner filed a public notice late Tuesday that all 60 employees at its New Rochelle offices were getting fired. Layoffs will begin Aug. 29, with a complete shuttering of the company by Oct. 29, according to the notice.

The problem: Steiner himself had no control over the sale of his company, having sold it to Omnicom for $25 million in 2000. A source said the advertising behemoth had been quietly shopping the sports memorabilia unit, which had been losing money for several years.

After selling to Omnicom, Steiner remained Steiner Sports’ public face, and sources said he had planned to stay on after the company’s presumed sale to Legends.

That all changed when Steiner learned Fanatics had scooped up the company’s intellectual property and inventory for less than $10 million, according to a source briefed on the situation. The deal does not include Steiner Sports’ contracts with individual athletes like Eli Manning, Patrick Ewing and CC Sabathia, which will stay with Omnicom, sources said.

The sale marks an end for Steiner and the company he founded in the late 1980s. After he sold it to Omnicom, big deals followed, including a 2005 licensing agreement with the New York Yankees for such products as game-used bases, bats, balls, player jerseys, caps and lineup cards.

In 2009, Steiner Sports cut a deal to sell off relics from the old Yankee Stadium, including seats, signs and lockers. The deal resulted in a class-action suit against both Steiner Sports and the Yankees, accusing them of repainting and modifying stadium seats that had been advertised as unrefurbished.

The suit was settled in 2010, with no admission of wrongdoing.

Last year, the New York Giants, Manning and Steiner Sports settled a lawsuit over allegations they conspired to trick a group of memorabilia collectors by giving them fake game-used helmets from Manning. Terms of the settlement weren’t revealed.

Two days after Steiner announced his exit from Steiner Sports, it filed a Warn notice that it was closing the plant and laying off 60 out of 60 employees.

Fanatics primarily sells sports merchandise to fans online but also operates e-commerce sites for such professional leagues as the NFL, MLB, NBA and NASCAR.

Rubin, who also owns the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils, purchased Fanatics in 2011 as the chairman of GSI Commerce. He bought it back the same year after GSI was acquired by eBay for $2.4 billion.

In 2012, Fanatics bought rival Dreams for more than $180 million, securing its place in the top tier of sports merchandising. It now sells $2.5 billion of licensed sports merchandise a year, of which less than 5 % is memorabilia.

Omnicom did not respond with comment.

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