Sports Illustrated Rolls Out 2015 Swimsuit Issue With Massive Marketing Push

Fan festivals kick off in New York and Nashville

It's that time of year again, when Sports Illustrated provides a brief respite from the bitter cold with the release of its annual sun-and-sand (and scantily clad) Swimsuit Issue. Today, as the magazine hits newsstands and digital platforms, SI is kicking off its biggest rollout ever, with massive public events in New York and Nashville.

"Our strategy this year was to go bigger across every single channel," said the magazine's vp, publisher Brendan Ripp. "Sports Illustrated has never tried to launch something this big in the experiential space."

On Monday and Tuesday, SI will host its first Swim City festival in New York's Herald Square, which is expected to draw between 10,000 and 15,000 visitors per day. On Wednesday, the celebration heads south to Nashville, where SI will host a two-day Swimville festival complete with a concert headlined by Kings of Leon on Wednesday night.

Both fan festivals will feature model appearances, live musical performances and the first Time Inc.-branded shops, selling SI Swim gear. There will also be on-site activations from sponsors, including a Lexus Lounge, a Schick barbershop offering free shaves and haircuts, and an Old Spice cabin serving hot "mocktails."

In line with Time Inc.'s emphasis on cross-title collaboration, SI Swim is partnering with other magazine brands to promote the issue's rollout. The Kings of Leon concert and red carpet preshow will be livestreamed across multiple brands' websites (including SI.com, Time.com, People.com, EW.com, InStyle.com and Time Inc.'s Daily Cut video platform). And SI Swim models will take over the social feeds of various Time Inc. titles.

This year also marks SI Swim's biggest TV push to date, thanks to a five-part Travel Channel special that premieres on Feb. 15.

While Time Inc. is not releasing ad page numbers for SI Swim or any of its franchises, this year's issue is the second-largest since 2008, according to Ripp. (Ad pages are down from last year's 50th anniversary blowout, however.) The 2015 issue features more than a dozen custom ads, including a 12-page unit from DirecTV and a parody cover from Snickers. 

This year's cover has already sparked some controversy due to model Hannah Davis' very low-cut bikini bottoms. While plenty of social media commenters voiced outrage over the image, in which Davis appears to be pulling down her bathing suit (a classic SI Swim pose), others said the cover was no less scandalous than certain ones from previous years.