After tightening the purse strings over the past five years, department store chains are going on a sponsorship shopping spree.

With consumer spending on the rebound, national and regional chains are signing new deals to demonstrate their community involvement, engage consumers, support new brand campaigns and drive traffic into their stores.

Recent activity includes a mix of national and local deals ranging from fashion shows to professional sports. Those include Sears Holdings Corp. and the NBA All-Star Game; Belk, Inc. and Charleston Fashion Week; and Macy’s, Inc. and the Kentucky Derby Festival’s Spring Fashion Show.

In addition, Lord & Taylor recently renewed its partnership with Project Runway for the second consecutive year.

Below, IEG SR highlights five sponsorship hot buttons for the department store category:

Demonstrate community involvement. As a major player in the community, department stores look for opportunities to demonstrate their local involvement through charitable giving and other philanthropic endeavors.

Those initiatives frequently include in-store fundraising programs. For example, J.C. Penney Co. in July 2012 rolled out “jcp cares,” a charitable giving program that invites customers to round up their purchases to the nearest whole dollar.

“Through jcp cares, we’re able to work with customers to address some of the most pressing issues facing our communities today,” said Miki Woodard, president of jcp cares and vice president of philanthropy at J.C. Penney.

JCPenney rolled out jcp cares with the United Service Organizations, around which it made a $1 million donation in addition to a month-long fundraiser. The retailer also made a $1 donation—with a $50,000 cap—for each customer that checked into a JCPenney store via Foursquare between July 23-31, 2012.  

The retailer has run similar promotions with the National 4-H Council, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Teach For America and other nonprofits.

Support brand campaigns. Belk has significantly expanded its sponsorship portfolio to support the 2010 launch of the “Modern. Southern. Style” brand campaign and engage its 35-to-54-year-old female target.  

“We looked at different ways to express the modern, Southern lifestyle, which led us into new venues and activities,” said Jon Pollack, Belk’s executive vice president of sales promotion, marketing and ecommerce.

Those activities range from college football to the arts. In addition to Charleston Fashion Week, recent sponsorships include the Savannah College of Art and Design, Carolina’s Got Art! shows and the Belk Bowl, a post-season college football game located in the retailer’s hometown of Charlotte, N.C. 

“We’re looking for different ways to interact and engage with our customer, wherever she wants to be engaged,” said Pollack. “We don’t want to be just a department store. We want to be part of her lifestyle.”

Drive store traffic. Like other retailers, department stores typically activate sponsorship with promotional platforms designed to drive store traffic.

That can range from distributing coupons at events to hosting property-themed activities at local stores. For example, Macy’s announced its new partnership with the Kentucky Derby Festival at a press event at a store in Louisville, Ky.

Promote private label merchandise. Department stores frequently use sponsorship to promote private-label apparel.

Macy’s has sponsored the Bamboozle music festival, Vans Warped Tour and other music properties on behalf of its American Rag brand, while Kohl’s Corp. sponsored the Spanish language TV series iQ Viva! The Chosen to support its partnerships with Jennifer Lopez and ex-husband Marc Anthony, both of whom wore clothes on the show from their signature apparel collections.  

“From a business perspective, we’re interested in organic extensions that allow us to leverage and maximize our investment in the Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony lifestyle collections,” said Julie Gardner, Kohl’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, in a statement announcing the tie.  

Exclusive brands represent 51 percent of Kohl’s income, according to a company document.  

Promote loyalty cards. Some department stores are joining hotels, restaurants and other companies in using sponsorship to promote customer rewards programs.

For example, Sears partnered with the NBA All-Star Game to access perks for Shop Your Way Rewards members. The retailer will provide one member the opportunity to present the Sears Shooting Stars championship trophy to the winning team during an on-court presentation broadcast live on TNT.

The company also will offer Shop Your Way Rewards members the opportunity to attend other NBA events throughout the year. Those include the NBA Draft presented by State Farm, the NBA Summer League and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.

“NBA fans—like Sears customers—are loyal and passionate, so this is a great strategic fit,” said Jim Kunihiro, vice president and chief marketing officer at Sears.


Belk, Inc.
2801 W. Tyvola Rd.
Charlotte, NC 28217

Jon Pollack, executive vice president of sales promotion, marketing and ecommerce. 

Targets/Objectives/Key Activations: The country’s largest privately-owned department store chain has increased use of sponsorship over the past two years to support its “Modern. Southern.Style” brand campaign. For example, Belk will use its new partnership with Charleston Fashion Week to engage Southern designers. Belk operates 301 stores in 16 states.

Current Deals: Title: Belk Bowl, Charlotte, N.C. Cosponsor: Atlanta Ballet; Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, Morehead City, N.C.; Charleston Fashion Week; MLB Atlanta Braves; NASCAR Hall of Fame; National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute; NFL Carolina Panthers; NHL Carolina Hurricanes; North Carolina State University athletics; PGA Tour Wells Fargo Championship, Charlotte, N.C.; Susan G. Komen for the Cure; University of Alabama athletics; University of Georgia athletics; University of Tennessee athletics.

Additional Comments: Belk last year partnered with NFL Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to launch a men’s apparel line. Belk this year dropped title of Charlotte’s Carrousel Parade.


J.C. Penney Co.
6501 Legacy Dr.
Plano, TX 75024

Mike Boylson, chief marketing officer

Targets/Objectives/Key Activations: JCPenney over the past two years has rolled out a new brand campaign and attempted to remake its stores into a collection of boutiques. The retailer in 2012 inked two-year presenting sponsorship of Martha Stewart’s Cooking School on PBS to promote a co-branded line of products. JCPenney operates roughly 1,100 stores in 49 states and Puerto Rico.

Current Deals: Academy Awards; Boys & Girls Clubs of America; Breast Cancer Research Foundation; Buc Days, Corpus Christi, Texas; National 4-H Council; NHL Dallas Stars; Share our Strength; Teach for America; United Service Organizations; United Way of America; YMCA of the USA.

Additional Comments:  Supports National 4-H Council, YMCA and other nonprofits on behalf of JCPenney Afterschool Fund.


Kohl’s Corp.
N56 W17000 Ridgewood Dr.
Menomonee Falls, WI 53051

Julie Gardner, executive vice president and chief marketing officer

Targets/Objectives/Key Activations: Kohl’s—which operates more than 1,000 discount department stores in 49 states—largely focuses on three types of properties: youth soccer, nonprofits and events and teams located near its corporate headquarters. The retailer uses sponsorship to demonstrate community involvement, support children’s health and wellness, drive store traffic and engage employees. Kohl’s leverages its long-running partnership with US Youth Soccer –a tie that affords title of the Kohl’s American Cup traveling recreational tournament–to engage parents, distribute coupons and provide employee volunteer opportunities.

Current Deals: Presenting: Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Southeast Wisconsin. Cosponsor: AHL Milwaukee Admirals; Alex’s Lemonade Stand; American Cancer Society; BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee; Greater360: Goods for the Greater Good; Milwaukee Art Museum; MLB Milwaukee Brewers; NBA Milwaukee Bucks; NFL Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders; Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International; PGA Tour Principal Charity Classic presented by Wells Fargo, West Des Moines, Iowa; Summerfest, Milwaukee; US Youth Soccer.
Additional Comments: Titles one of four main entrances at the BMO Harris Bradley Center as part of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s “Champions of the Community” program. Activates Komen with “Kohl’s Conversations for the Cure” campaign. Leverages Summerfest with the Kohl’s Captivation Station, a free art and music educational program for children and their parents.


Macy’s, Inc.
7 W. 7th St.
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Amy Kule, group vice president of national events & partnership marketing

Targets/Objectives/Key Activations: With roughly 850 stores in 45 states, Macy’s is the country’s largest department store chain. The company largely focuses on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Macy’s Passport Presents Glamorama and other proprietary events. The retailer over the past few years has placed more focus on collegiate and professional sports to reach men. For example, Macy’s in 2011 signed a three-year sponsorship of the Southeastern Conference. The retailer also sponsors the MLB Philadelphia Phillies, a tie it uses to outfit the Phillies Ball Girls.

Current Deals: Bloomingdale’s: American Foundation for AIDS Research; Boca Raton Museum of Art; Breast Cancer Research Foundation; Jewish Museum, New York City; Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International; Keep A Child Alive; Morris Animal Foundation; Penn Fashion Week, Philadelphia; Whitney Museum of Art. Macy’s: Title: Kentucky Derby Festival Spring Fashion Show. Cosponsor: African American Museum in Philadelphia; Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival, New York; Bank of America Atlanta Football Classic; Bamboozle music festival, Asbury Park, N.J ; Boston Pride; Breast Cancer Research Foundation; Chicago Children’s Museum; Cincinnati Art Museum; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; Cleveland Convention & Visitors Bureau; Cleveland Museum of Art; Dallas Arboretum; Dallas Museum of Art; Dress for Success; Fiesta San Antonio; Georgia Theatre Ensemble; Goodman Theatre, Chicago; Great Reno Balloon Race; Indianapolis Zoo; The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Mich.; Latino Fashion Week; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; Make-A-Wish Foundation; March of Dimes Foundation; Mariachi USA Festival; MLB Philadelphia Phillies; National Black Arts Festival; National Park Foundation; Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County; Nature Conservancy; New York City Ballet; Outfest—Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival; Reading is Fundamental; San Francisco Pride celebration; Southeast Conference; Southwest Airlines Chinese new Year Parade & Festival; The Washington Ballet; Utah Arts Festival; Whitney Museum of American Art; Zoo Atlanta.

Additional Notes: Sponsors Bamboozle music fest on behalf of American Rag private-label apparel line. Sponsors Keep A Child Alive on behalf of both Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.


Sears Holdings Corp.
3333 Beverly Rd.
Hoffman Estates, IL 60179

Jim Kunihioro, vice president, chief marketing officer

Targets/Objectives/Key Activations: Sears Holding Corp. operates more than 2,600 Sears and Kmart stores in the U.S. and Canada. Sears this month announced a new partnership with the NBA, around which it will title the Shooting Stars shooting competition at the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston. Kmart last year activated its long-running March of Dimes partnership with Babies on Broadway, an event that featured a 12-foot replica dime and a march to a local Kmart store.

Current Deals: Kmart: ALSAC St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; March of Dimes Foundation. Lands’ End: American Camp Assn.; Boys Town. Sears: Title: Sears Centre Arena, Hoffman Estates, Ill. Cosponsor: Good360: Goods For the Greater Good; Rebuilding Together; Chris Evert Raymond James Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic, Boca Raton, Fla.

Additional Comments. Sears this month completed the spinoff of Orchard Supply Hardware Stores Corp. into a separate publicly traded company.