Although Sears Holdings Corp. has kept a fairly low sponsorship profile over its five-year existence, sponsorship and other strategic partnerships have recently taken on increased importance.

The company is using sponsorship to promote its Sears and Kmart retail brands, as well as to promote specific product lines and services.

For example, Sears Holdings recently struck first-time partnerships with the MLB Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. The deals are on behalf of the Sears Blue Lawn & Garden Crew, the store’s name for its retail specialists in its lawn and garden department.

On top of that, Sears’ DieHard auto battery brand earlier this year announced a season-long primary sponsorship of a Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car team in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. The company also is exploring a potential partnership with the NHRA, industry sources say.

Not to be left out, Kmart is sponsoring the theatrical release of concert film Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3D to promote its positioning as a leader in 3D TV sales.

More deals could be in the works, sources say.

“You will see more strategic partnerships on behalf of both Sears and Kmart,” said one sponsorship veteran who has worked with the company.

DieHard Recharges Sponsorship Portfolio

Demonstrating Sears’ revived interest in sponsorship, the iconic brand has returned to motorsports after a seven-year-plus absence. DieHard is using the medium as a platform to engage consumers and reenergize its brand.

DieHard, which had been involved in NASCAR, IndyCar and other motorsports properties in the past, decided to align with drag racing due to the nature of the sport’s fan base, including its approach to vehicle ownership as a lifestyle activity.

“The NHRA fan is a cylinder-driven consumer—someone who works on their cars but also has other activities including motorcycles, ATVs and boats. Diehard makes batteries for all of those applications,” said Erik Rosenstrauch, general manager of the DieHard brand business unit.

DieHard is producing team-themed collateral that will be offered through Sears Auto Center locations, Rosenstrauch said. The company is still brainstorming additional ways to activate the tie in-store, he added.

To reach young-adult consumers, twentysomething DSR driver Matt Hagan posts video blogs and other content to DieHard’s Facebook page and the team’s social media outlets.

“The sponsorship provides an opportunity to engage consumers at the track and through social media, which is so important in communicating with younger consumers who are just beginning to drive,” Rosenstrauch said.

DieHard further activates the sponsorship by hosting Sears Auto Center employees at races. “We use field activation to get our associates excited about the brand and the sport, as well as an educational tool for some training around the DieHard brand.”

The DSR sponsorship is the newest tie in DieHard’s strategic marketing portfolio. The brand earlier this year partnered with boat manufacturer Brunswick Corp., around which it is providing battery-themed editorial content for the company’s marine publications.

On the motorcycle front, DieHard has a two-year-old partnership with custom motorcycle manufacturer Orange County Choppers. As part of the partnership, the bike shop has built DieHard and Craftsman-branded motorcycles and equips every motorcycle with a DieHard battery, Rosenstrauch said.

Baseball Ties Tout Lawn And Garden Products
Sears is using its new MLB team deals as a platform to promote lawn and garden products, some of which are branded under the Craftsman name.

Each deal affords prominent visibility on site as well as on TV broadcasts.

For example, the White Sox tie affords sponsorship of the team’s groundskeepers, who have been renamed the Sears Blue Crew. The retailer gains branding on groundskeeper uniforms, drag nets and tarp covers, and will receive exposure on public address announcements when the crew hits the field, said Jim Muno, the team’s senior director of corporate partnerships.

Sears also signed a personal services deal with White Sox head groundskeeper Roger Bossard, who it will feature in a series of online vignettes offering garden tips.

The tie does not include category exclusivity, Muno said.

TJ Cohen, account supervisor with Niles, Ill.-based sponsorship agency Paragon Marketing Group, spearheaded the White Sox and Mets deals, as well as a partnership with MLB Advanced Media, on behalf of Sears and its lawn and garden business unit.

On the licensing front, Sears announced today a four-year deal to become an MLB licensee, marketing a line of team-branded Craftsman tools, storage units and lawn and garden equipment.

Sears’ portfolio also includes a partnership between its Craftsman tool brand and NASCAR, as well as title of the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Kmart Uses Country Music To Tout 3D TVs
The discount retailer aligned with Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3D to promote its stores as locations to purchase 3D TVs and other consumer electronics products.

“In the next 10 to 15 years, 3D will be a part of everything we do, whether it’s sports, concerts or gaming, and Kmart will be in the forefront of supporting this technology,” said Karen Austin, Sears Holdings’ president of home electronics, in a statement.

The film premiered April 17 in Las Vegas—the same weekend as the Academy of Country Music Awards in that city—and is running in theaters in seven markets through May 2.

Kmart, which operates roughly 1,325 stores in 49 states, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, also is using the tie to drive Chesney CD sales.

The chain also has longstanding ties to ALSAC/ St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the American Diabetes Assn. and March of Dimes, under its Kmart for Kids philanthropic program.