Coach Sanders Joins Nick Saban in Aflac Campaign to Spotlight HBCUs

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A new face will appear alongside Nick Saban in his Aflac commercials. Former MLB and NFL star Deion Sanders will join the Alabama football coach in the insurance company’s 2021 fall football campaign.

“Prime Time” Sanders, now the head football coach at Jackson State, will star in three new advertisements for Aflac alongside Saban starting this fall as the company looks to promote diversity and representation and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, specifically. Aflac declined to disclose any financial or contractual details regarding its partnership with Sanders, but in addition to spotlighting HBCUs through the football legend himself, the supplemental insurance provider also pledged financial support for HBCU institutions, including Sanders’ Jackson State.

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“We share a vision when it comes to supporting HBCUs and, more broadly, communities of color,” Sanders said. “I like to say that I see myself as standing in the gap between those who need greater support and the institutions that can provide that support … I look forward to working with Aflac, the Aflac Duck and, of course, Coach Nick Saban as we put the ball in the end zone and make a real difference in peoples’ lives.”

As part of the partnership, Aflac will donate $75,000 to Jackson State’s athletic department, earmarked for professional development. The Georgia-based company will also serve as a supporting partner of Sanders’ football camp for high school and junior college prospects, continuing what Aflac describes as its core commitment to “bridging the racial health and wealth gap” for communities of color and within the college football landscape in particular.

The campaign also includes tie-ins with Disney-owned ESPN’s weekly College GameDay program, which Aflac said has plans to include specific HBCU programming starting this season, and other in-show integrations with the worldwide leader. Activations at marquee HBCU matchups and in their broadcasts on ESPN’s family of networks are also part of Aflac’s plans, as is tapping into the company’s existing partnership with the SEC.

Shannon Watkins, chief brand and marketing officer at Aflac, said the partnership was the product of her company’s desire to provide a greater platform for HBCU awareness with college football.

“Deion Sanders is arguably one of the best athletes of all time, and he’s now an HBCU coach, but the reason we thought he would be a great ambassador for us is really purpose alignment with Aflac,” Watkins said in an interview. “He is absolutely standing in the gap for HBCUs. He’s given his time and his talent [and is] helping raise awareness for HBCU athletics within the broader landscape of college sports.”

The campaign also features HBCU band members and dancers in the television spots. Watkins, an HBCU graduate herself from Nashville’s Fisk University, added that she hopes spotlighting Sanders and HBCUs in a mainstream, national advertising campaign will change the cultural perception around the institutions and the HBCU experience.

Aflac has donated to HBCU-focused college football events in the past and made large donations to non-athletic programs at those universities including a $1 million commitment to Morehouse School of Medicine in 2020. The company said it plans to continue to support HBCUs on and off the field in the future, but the hope is that Sander’s face and fame can help bolster awareness and garner greater support for these institutions in the near term.

HBCUs haven’t been the only recipient of Aflac’s financial support in recent months. Earlier this year, the company announced a $1.5 billion strategic partnership with SoundPoint Capital Management, which included a $500 million commitment to spurring economic development and job creation in distressed communities. In 2020, the company invested $25 million in the Black Economic Development Fund, which focuses on supporting Black-led financial institutions.

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