There’s at least one surefire way to reach men — sports — and J.C. Penney and Phillips-Van Heusen are turning to football to bolster their relationship with the male shopper.

This story first appeared in the September 21, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In a new marketing initiative that will run through February, the companies have teamed up with the Pro Football Hall of Fame to provide the first-ever forum for fans to vote and debate their choices for 2010 inductees.

Starting today, fans can visit the Van Heusen Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan’s Choice at to find stats on all 130-plus candidates, and opinions from sports experts, Hall of Famers and other fans. They are also encouraged to debate potential choices, lobby for their favorite players and post videos to support their picks.

Although the final decision will remain with 44 sports media representatives, “the fans’ voice will be heard,” said Mike Kelly, executive vice president of marketing for PVH. The inductees will be revealed live on the NFL Network in Miami on Feb. 6, the day before the Super Bowl.

“This…marks the first time we are endorsing this type of fan voting forum,” said George Veras, president of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame Enterprises. “Although the fan’s vote will not ultimately count towards the official selection process, one thing is certain — the Hall will hear the fans loud and clear.”

Steve Lawrence, executive vice president of men’s apparel for Penney’s, said the initiative is part of the store’s “long-term plan in men’s. We know our marketing efforts have to reach men, and sports marketing is the best way to do that. And football is the holy grail of sports marketing.”

The campaign will also be featured at select NFL stadiums around the country where Hall of Famers and memorabilia from the Hall of Fame will appear, and “Fan Face-Off” debates will be encouraged.

Lawrence expects the Hall of Fame initiative to have “a direct correlation to sales. There are several links to J.C. Penney on the site so if a customer wants to buy a dress shirt or tie, he can.”

The campaign offers an in-store component as well. Fans will be able to enter a text-and-win sweepstakes for prizes that include playing golf with Hall of Famers at Pebble Beach, Spyglass and Spanish Bay Country Clubs; a trip to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, or a chance to attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend and toss the coin at the 2010 Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. “You have to be in a store to enter,” Lawrence said.

Although the ultimate goal is to sell more men’s wear, Bill Gentner, Penney’s divisional vice president and men’s enterprise marketing director, said the hope is that it will “increase customer engagement and exposure to the men’s store at J.C. Penney.”

PVH’s Kelly added: “It’s about creating an emotional connection with the fans. Studies show that fans recognize the role of sponsorship and have a greater affinity for brands within their space.”

He said Van Heusen shirts and ties are also used in some of the creative for the campaign. For example, models wearing the merchandise as well as football pads are shown hitting tackle dummies at Giants Stadium.

Kelly said the success of another PVH brand, Izod, and its sponsorship of the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway prompted the company to seek a similar vehicle for its dressier brother. “It’s been very powerful, and we felt we could do the same thing for Van Heusen,” Kelly said.

Lawrence said this campaign, coupled with some major launches at Penney’s for back-to-school and fall, prove the company’s commitment to enhancing its men’s business. “With the very challenging economic climate out there, we’re reaching out in ways we’ve never done before by providing exciting product and marketing initiatives,” he said. “We’re not resting on our laurels. We keep pushing and doing everything we can to attract customers to our men’s store.”

Ads will be featured on television, radio, print, digital and outdoor mediums, including ESPN’s Monday Night Football, ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. There also will be a billboard in Times Square.


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