Sports Illustrated's Plan to Become More Than a Magazine Starts With a Branded Apparel Collection for JCPenney
Sports Illustrated has covered some iconic duos over the decades: Jordan and Pippen. Venus and Serena. Kobe and Shaq. Now, SI is trying to form an iconic duo of its own by teaming up with JCPenney—the department store chain—to launch an apparel collection.
Dubbed "Sports Illustrated for JCPenney," the collection debuted in December at a splashy fashion show held at "halftime" of SI's annual awards event. On Jan. 6, the apparel line went live in JCPenney stores and on its website.
Here's how JCPenney described the line in a press release:
Combining iconic athletic moments inspired by Sports Illustrated archives with JCPenney’s strong in-house design team, the collection embodies a modern sensibility of power, strength, confidence and movement.
Offering an unparalleled fusion of sport and style, the collection features sleek silhouettes, modern fabrics and bold design. Made with inclusivity in mind, Sports Illustrated for JCPenney offers a wide range in sizing for all ages.
The line features men's, women's and children's styles with some plus-size and big-and-tall options. Many of the items have bright colors and prints.
After browsing the collection on JCPenney's website, though, we're not exactly sure where the "iconic athletic moments inspired by Sports Illustrated archives" come in. Most of the designs are fairly simple, and almost all lack any kind of overt SI branding. The most we get is an "SI" logo here or there, with a few graphic tees featuring larger (but still subtle) logos.
The whole thing looks more like an unbranded athletic-wear collection made up mostly of sports bras, leggings, hoodies and sweatpants—which makes sense. If you're going to release a new line of athletic and performance apparel, you could do worse than attaching it to a brand synonymous with athletics.
Sports Illustrated is one of the biggest names in sports media, but when its publisher, Meredith Group, sold the brand in 2019 amid a tumultuous digital publishing landscape, its future was uncertain. The buyer was Authentic Brands Group—not a publisher, but a licensing firm. And the firm quickly spun off SI's print and digital publishing rights to another investor group, then known as The Maven.
That setup should have tipped us off that the plan for SI was always to expand the brand beyond the publishing world. And an apparel collection makes sense. We've seen plenty of brands go this route before as they look to expand beyond their initial product to reach a larger audience and diversify revenue. P.F. Chang's just did it in the restaurant space. Peloton, the exercise-bike brand, has done it with great success.
Only time will tell if it works for SI, but with the athletic apparel marketing continuing to boom, it's not a bad place to start.