Groupon Loses Mobile Head David Katz, Who Is Heading To Sports Commerce Site Fanatics

Groupon continues to roll out new products that point to the e-commerce company’s ongoing ambitions to move beyond the daily deal and further into becoming a central hub for local and mobile commerce. But come August, it will be doing so without one of its most senior mobile execs. David Katz, VP and GM of consumer mobile, is leaving the company at the end of next month and taking up a position as SVP and GM of mobile for Fanatics, the sports apparel commerce site.

Katz passed on the news to friends and colleagues in an email, which TechCrunch obtained via an anonymous tipster. We’re including that below.

Meanwhile, Groupon has also confirmed Katz’s departure, interim management for mobile, and plans for recruiting a replacement:

“David is leaving Groupon at the end of the month to take another position,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’ve begun a search for a new leader of our Consumer Mobile division. Groupon has very deep and talented mobile team that will continue to report to our Senior Vice President of Product Development Jeff Holden, and we’re excited about the future for one of the fastest-growing Mobile operations in the industry.”

Fanatics, which had been acquired by GSI Commerce (now eBay Enterprise) in March 2011, was spun out of the company as part of Kynetic (a new company from the founder of GSI Commerce) just seven months later. Sports apparel is big business. In June of this year, Fanatics was valued at $3.1 billion when it raised $170 million from Singapore’s Temasek and Alibaba. Prior to that, Fanatics had raised $225 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Insight Venture Partners and Bank of America for its network of sports commerce sites, focused mainly on apparel (one of the biggest in its portfolio of sites is Football Fanatics). Making a bigger move into mobile is a logical step for the company.

Katz has been with Groupon since April 2011, and before taking on the role of VP of mobile. Prior to that, he was VP and GM for retail solutions. And before that, Katz spent six years at Yahoo, with the last three as VP of mobile.

I’ve spoken with Katz several times about the launch of new mobile products, and he’s always been firmly focused on business as usual, despite there sometimes being more than a little drama going on around him. In the wake of co-founder and CEO Andrew Mason getting ousted, Katz told me that it was simply “business as usual” at Groupon, with the company just focused on shipping new products.

He was also one of the key people there trying to make sure that what Groupon was doing in the U.S. would also see light outside of North America — no small task, considering that much of Groupon’s international growth was inorganic and therefore based on different IT systems. The question going forward will be whether whoever succeeds Katz and Groupon will continue to give mobile the same focus it has had up to now, and whether that ambition connects with consumers, both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

We’ve reached out to Katz for comment. For now, here’s his memo:

Dear Friends,

Just a quick note to let you know that I’m going to be leaving Groupon and joining Fanatics, Inc. as SVP and GM, Mobile.

And what you may ask is “Fanatics”?  If you don’t know, Fanatics is a privately held e-commerce company that is the market leader in sports apparel (~$1B in annual revenue).  Fanatics runs the online stores for the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, NCAA, major college conferences, major media properties like ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo and Sporting News and lots of individual pro and college teams.  Basically, if you are a sports fan there’s a good chance you’ve already bought something from Fanatics.

So why am I’m making this switch?  Well…

1) I get to work in sports, which is awesome

2) I think this is a strong team building a great, big business that is on the cusp of becoming enormous

3) I get to build a brand new mobile team and some cool product from scratch

In my new role I’m going to be setting up a new dev center in the Bay Area to build and market mobile apps and sites.  I’m going to be building a new team – which is part of the appeal – so if you know great mobile developers, PMs, designers or marketers who love sports and m-commerce please send them my way.

I’ll be at Groupon through mid-August and moving over to Fanatics immediately after.  I’ll send new work contact info when I have it but I’m always reachable at this email.