Ralph Lauren to Sponsor PBS' 'Masterpiece,' Create Special 'Downtown Abbey' Ads

The fashion retailer will begin airing messages on the network Sept. 30 with the second and final season premiere of "Upstairs Downstairs."

The popularity of Downton Abbey has already earned PBS a raft of awards, inspired myriad Twitter handles, Saturday Night Live parodies and global viewing parties. Now the show has helped PBS’ Masterpiece garner another, very fashionable, national corporate sponsor.

Ralph Lauren Corporation has signed on as a presenting sponsor of Masterpiece. It is the apparel company’s first television sponsorship.

With its tweedy jackets and English countryside-inspired aesthetic, Ralph Lauren is a good fit for Masterpiece, which programs multiple British period dramas including Upstairs Downstairs and Sherlock. Ralph Lauren’s on-air sponsorship messages will begin airing Sept. 30 on PBS in conjunction with the second (and final season) of Upstairs. And the company will create unique spots for various Masterpiece series including Downton, which returns for its third season in January.

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"To have Ralph Lauren choose Masterpiece as their first TV sponsorship is an incredible tribute to our series," said Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton. "Their support will help us maintain the standard of excellence that drew them to Masterpiece in the first place.”

Downton already has won six Emmy awards, including outstanding miniseries. And this year, it earned 16 Emmy nominations with including outstanding drama series where it will go head-to-head with Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Homeland. Downton also received noms in every major acting category.

Ralph Lauren is the second major corporate sponsor for Masterpiece since Viking River Cruises became a title sponsor last year. Before Viking stepped up, Masterpiece had been without a major corporate sponsor for six years after ExxonMobil ended its partnership with the series after more than three decades.

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"We are proud to be associated with Masterpiece and public television," said David Lauren, executive vp of advertising, marketing, and corporate communication at Ralph Lauren Corporation. "This is a great partnership with a brand that represents the same commitment to quality and excellence as Ralph Lauren."

Corporate funding has increasingly become a challenge for PBS as recession has downsized charitable endeavors at many companies. At the same time, the federal funding that the public broadcaster receives from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has come under direct assault from Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, who said during a campaign stop last December: "We’re not going to kill Big Bird. But Big Bird is going to have advertisements."

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com

Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie