Business

Aflac colors unveiled on Roush race car

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Jack Roush was looking for his new business partner Friday morning.

"I haven't met the duck yet," Roush said.

The Aflac duck didn't show up at Michigan International Speedway, but Aflac President and Chief Operating Officer Paul S. Amos II did.

Aflac and Roush Fenway Racing joined forces for eight NASCAR races this season.

The announcement, in which the blue Aflac car with the duck on the hood was unveiled, was made in front of the motorsports media prior to this weekend's Citizens Bank 400 at Michigan.

The highlight of the Aflac-Roush Fenway deal is the duck will run four Nextel Cup races -- NASCAR's top division -- on the hood of Greg Biffle's No. 16 Ford.

The duck's first race will come in two weeks at New Hampshire.

The company is testing the market this year with an eye toward a full sponsorship of a NASCAR team in 2008, said Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Herbert.

"Why NASCAR?" Herbert said. "We looked at the numbers regarding their fan base, and the coordination of their demographic and ours match well. Over years of evaluating our market, there is a key overlap of the fanatical fan of NASCAR and the people who buy our products."

Roush knows Aflac is testing the waters.

"I think the duck will do very well in NASCAR," Roush said. "I think NASCAR, Roush Fenway and the duck will come together to generate a lot of interest. I don't think they need to rush to field a Cup program. When it is time, they will know it." Aflac needs to see results from its venture into racing. And results translate into policy sales. The temporary deal gives the company a chance to re-evaluate the sponsorship in November.

"We would love to continue with NASCAR, but we have to make sure the expenditure we have in regards to marketing pays out in the marketplace," Herbert said. ". . . We have to perform. We must make sure the fan base that NASCAR brings us converts into open doors and the sale of more products."

Aflac's policies in the U.S. are sold through employers to employees. The corporate culture of NASCAR could put Aflac products in companies that currently don't offer them to their work force.

Herbert said Aflac Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dan Amos has been consistent in his stance on the NASCAR deal.

"He's been steadfast in his response to me," Herbert said. "He has said, 'If it drives business, I will approve whatever is best for the business.' "

Aflac officials would not discuss the terms of the deal with Roush Fenway. A one-race sponsorship in NASCAR typically costs between $350,000 and $500,000.

"I would not say those figures are off base," said Al Johnson, Aflac's second vice president of marketing services. "We are happy with the deal and where the numbers came in."

A temporary sponsorship on Biffle's car became available when the primary sponsor Ameirquest, a financially troubled subprime lender, began to look for other companies to pick up the sponsorship, which is in its first of three years.

In addition to he Nextel Cup races, Aflac will have sponsorship in four Busch Series races. Biffle's Roush Fenway teammates Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray will drive the Aflac car in the Busch series, NASCAR's second-tier division that often runs at the same tracks on the same weekends as the Nextel Cup teams.

Edwards has been a consistent winner on the Busch Series this year.

"Carl Edwards might get the duck in victory lane before I do," Biffle said.

The company talked to a number of teams before signing with Roush Fenway. One of those teams was Dale Earnhardt Inc. about the possibility of sponsoring Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Busch Series. Earnhardt has announced he will leave DEI at the end of the season for Hendrick Motorsports.

"There are no conversations at this point with Junior in regards to 2007 or 2008," Herbert said.

Aflac is pleased with the Roush Fenway deal, Herbert said, and would consider an agreement for next year.

"We are committed to the partnership that will help us get in racing in 2007," Herbert said. "We want to finish that this year. We are dating at this point. We don't want to be seen as flirting with anyone else. We will see how this works out and make our decision on 2008 accordingly."

In addition to sponsoring a car, Aflac will advertise during races that will be telecast by ABC, ESPN and TNT. The company will also sponsor the Aflac trivia question during the telecasts. The trivia question is currently used during Major League Baseball and college football telecasts.

AFLAC ON THE CIRCUIT

Aflac will sponsor cars in eight NASCAR races -- four Nextel Cup and four Busch Series -- the remainder of this season.All of the cars are owned by Roush Fenway Racing.

Nextel Cup schedule

Aflac will sponsor the No. 16 car driven by Greg Biffle in all four Nextel Cup races.

July 1 -- Lenox Industrial Tools 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon.

July 15 -- USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.

Sept. 2 -- Sony HD 500 at California Speedway in Fontana.

Sept. 30 -- Banquet 400 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.

Busch Series schedule

July 6 -- Daytona International Speedway, No. 60 car driven by Carl Edwards

Aug. 11 -- Watkins Glen International, No. 17 car driven by Matt Kenseth

Aug. 24 -- Bristol Motor Speedway, No. 26 car driven by Jamie McMurray

Sept. 7 -- Richmond International Raceway, No. 26 car driven by Jamie McMurray

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