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Jayson Tatum, Lil Baby join Patriots for Fanatics 'Merch Madness'

When Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin came up with the idea for "Merch Madness," Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft was his first phone call. The day of giving came to fruition at Gillette Stadium, and across the country, on Tuesday.

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When Michael Rubin has a big idea, he says his first call is always New England Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft.

That was the case when the Fanatics CEO started the All-In Challenge in 2020 to raise money for charity during the COVID-19 pandemic, and again, when he conceptualized the Fanatics "Merch Madness" event that came to fruition this week.

"Only a few months ago when I came up with the idea to do this, we said we want to give out $20 million dollars of merchandise in one day," Rubin relayed to media at the Field House at Gillette Stadium.

"I called Robert and said, 'Hey, I have this crazy idea. Can we take Patriot Place, the home of the Patriots, and can we bring thousands of kids through and give out Fanatics merchandise to help families in need?' Robert said, 'We want to do everything we can to help you.' You're always my first phone call when I want to do something great."

That phone call led to Fanatics' day of giving across 30 cities, with Rubin and Kraft both in attendance Tuesday at the Field House at Gillette Stadium to see the impact they could have on thousands of kids from local Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and teen centers.

Patriots players Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills and Terez Hall ran kids through drills, along with Patriots alumni and retired coaches like Dante Scarnecchia. The entire 2023 Patriots draft class participated, as well as New England Revolution players Carles Gil, Brandon Bye, and All-Star Djordje Petrovic. 

Appearances from Boston Celtics player Grant Williams, All-NBA teammate Jayson Tatum, and rapper Lil Baby made the event an unforgettable memory.

"It's a special day," Williams said. "We're fortunate to be in the position we're in, so the ability to give back for us is something that we're always passionate about. This event that Fanatics is putting on across 30 different cities is incredible. For me, growing up, this is an event that I would have dreamed of coming to. The fact that Michael and all these guys have been super motivated to give back is something we'd love to be a part of because these kids will remember this for the rest of their lives."

As noted by Rubin, the event was about more than free gear, but also inspiring kids across the country to live up to their fullest potential.

Having athletes and musical artists present, as noted by Jones and Mills, makes dreams more tangible to kids.

"It's really just about us having our platform, being that one percent, and knowing these kids are aspiring to be that, too," Mills said. "Us coming back, and them getting to see professional athletes in their hometown and the teams they root for, it's about giving back."

"I think it's a great event," Jones added. "Not just showing up and donating merchandise, but giving the time to come out here, let them be around players – it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of these kids and they're enjoying it."

With many Patriots players out of town to take a break between OTAs and training camp, Mills, Jones, and Hall still made a point to be there.

They were once those kids idolizing athletes and didn't take the moment for granted.

Jones still remembers the first Michael Vick jersey he had, probably from Walmart. For Mills, it was an Allen Iverson jersey from back when NBA jerseys were still made by Reebok.

"That was a jersey I wore until she had to take it off my body," said Mills. "I wanted to sleep in that."

That will be the case for the thousands of kids who came to Gillette Stadium for the first annual Merch Madness event, which gave away over 300,000 pieces of branded merchandise across the nation.

"The community is so important to us, and what he's trying to do, reaching families in need, it really makes a difference," Kraft said. "I'm really proud of Michael."

This was the second event of the day for Rubin, who flew in from New York City. From Boston, he flew down to Philadelphia for the same thing, with others holding it down in the 27 other cities.

Now, with proof of concept, Rubin is aiming even higher next year.

The goal for 2024? To give out $100 million in merch, and get fans involved to help reach 1 million people in need in the same day. On Tuesday, Fanatics took over the country. Next up? The world.

"Honestly, running Fanatics is a blast, but doing things like this, it's even that much more fun because you see you can make a big impact," Rubin said. 

"If there's one thing I learned from this guy (Kraft), it's that if you have a big platform you have a responsibility to use it to make the world a better place. I always say this is my number one mentor, and if there's something I learned from him it's that you have to do good in this world, day in and day out. This is Fanatics' attempt of trying to make the world a better place."

Check out photos from the event below.

Global digital sports platform Fanatics partnered with the Patriots to host a local Merch Madness: Fan Gear Giveaway event for invited guests from local Boys & Girls Clubs at the Field House on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. The event was part of Fanatics' annual Global Volunteer Day, in which the company pauses operations, allowing employees to volunteer and give back in their local communities. Joining the Fanatics team were Robert Kraft, Jonathan Kraft, Patriots veterans Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones, the entire Patriots rookie class, along with Boston Celtics players Jayson Tatum and Grant Williams, and hip hop star Lil Baby. The kids took part in football drills and were gifted with many merchandise items, including jerseys, hats, jackets, hoodies and t-shirts.

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