Building on an apparel collaboration released last year, J.C. Penney and Sports Illustrated this week announced “Sports Illustrated for JCPenney Swim.”
This partnership includes two swimwear collections, one that is now available at J.C. Penney stores and online and a limited edition capsule with Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin that debuts April 6, according to a press release.
Authentic Brands Group bought the Sports Illustrated brand in 2019, and later acquired a nearly 17% stake in J.C. Penney as well.
The first Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover, in 1964, was controversial enough to lead many people to cancel their subscriptions, but that seemed to only boost its appeal. In 1997, the issue became a stand-alone edition of the weekly magazine, garnering its publisher a billion dollars in sales.
As a publication, Sports Illustrated is now a shadow of its former self. Brand management firm Authentic Brands Group, which bought it in 2019 for $110 million, publishes it only monthly. But the tie-up with J.C. Penney allows the Sports Illustrated brand to continue to expand its reach and reinforce its more recent pivot to themes of inclusiveness and empowerment, from its previous sexualized appeal, according to Deb Gabor, CEO and founder of Sol Marketing. It also helps Sports Illustrated move the needle on becoming a broader lifestyle brand, and not just a purveyor of content, she said by phone.
“The introduction of an athletically focused swimwear line seems to go along with a refreshed approach to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit feature, which for 2023 features models who are more representative of the humans we see in real life, and content that goes beyond beautiful women in tiny swimsuits,” she said.
The common ownership of ABG may make this easier. But such collaborations are now common regardless of ownership, according to Barbara Kahn, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
J.C. Penney, now owned by two of its landlords along with ABG, is in the midst of another turnaround and continues to struggle financially.
“In this case it might make sense because they may both share the same target segment,” Kahn said by email. “The Sports Illustrated brand gets scale from the connection with JCP, and JCP gets associated with a well-established and respected brand.”