Uncle of Baby Shark producer becomes billionaire with MLB deal

SEOUL: “Baby Shark,” the viral earworm and de facto anthem for the Washington Nationals during the team’s World Series run last year, gave its producer Kim Min-seok a fortune of about US$125 million.

His uncle Kim Chang-soo is doo-doo-doing even better. He and his family have an estimated net worth of roughly US$1 billion, thanks in large part to their 54% stake in F&F Co, which manufactures and sells official Major League Baseball-branded clothing, bags and ball caps.

Shares of the Seoul-based company almost tripled last year after striking a deal to sell MLB apparel in China.

In June, it launched an online store on Alibaba’s Tmall, attracting more than 3.55 million visitors in two months, and opened two brick-and-mortar stores in Shanghai in December.

“Demand for the brand was driven by the popularity of its ball caps — now its sneakers and clothing are adding” to that, Son Hyo-joo, an analyst at Hanwha Investment & Securities Co, wrote in a Jan 7 research note. “Its duty-free stores in Korea are expanding in response.”

Discovery Channel

Another prominent F&F brand, Discovery Expedition, sells outdoor apparel under a licensing deal with Discovery Channel.

Kim, 58, got his start by joining the publishing business founded by his father.

His older brother now leads Samsung Publishing, the second-largest shareholder of SmartStudy, which produced the popular rendition of “Baby Shark.”

He turned to fashion by introducing foreign brands, including Italian label Benetton, to the local market in the 1990s.

F&F’s revenue for the nine months through September surged 38% to US$493 million from a year earlier, according to a financial statement.

The company, founded in 1992, plans to open as many as 10 stores in China this year.

Kim shared his ambitions in a 2018 interview with local newspaper JoongAng Ilbo.

“There’s no country like Korea that spends so much on clothing as compared to national income,” he said.

“Fashion can come alive in a place where there are lots of people who love fashion and are keen to catch on trends. Seoul will become the global fashion mecca after 10 years.”