Previously not a significant player in sponsorship, Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. has signed first-time deals and is in the market for other new partnerships as it looks to open roughly 2,000 new locations over the next eight to ten years.

The chain, which has about 3,400 U.S. stores, plans to expand its presence outside its core Midwest and Southeast footprint, with a focus on the Northeast, Gulf Coast, Southern California and Texas.

That goal has prompted the company to put a new emphasis on sponsorship as it looks to build visibility in new markets, generate enthusiasm among existing and potential franchisees and gain a promotional platform that can be leveraged across its expanding footprint.

“We are looking for national properties that can elevate the brand. We’re a strong regional brand, but we’re looking to grow and expand,” said Chris Kuehn, Arby’s senior vice president of national marketing.

The company is focusing on properties that provide access to 18-to-49-year-old men, an increasingly difficult target to reach, Kuehn said.

Arby’s has entered NASCAR this year with a tie to Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 17 team and driver Matt Kenseth. The chain will have the primary position on the car for 13 Busch Series races and associate sponsorship for the remaining 22 events. It also will title the car for this month’s Nextel Cup race at Tennessee’s Bristol Motor Speedway.

On the action sports front, Arby’s titled the inaugural Action Sports Awards presented by Fuel TV. In addition to naming rights for the event and its December broadcast on Fox, Arby’s titled the event’s Maverick Award.

The company plans to sign additional action sports sponsorships and endorsement deals to build credibility with young people, Kuehn said.

In addition, Arby’s is leveraging its beverage vendors to access sponsorship rights. For example, Arby’s will sponsor May’s Academy of Country Music Awards via pass-through rights from Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages’ Dr Pepper brand. The chain also pours PepsiCo Beverages North America products.

Leverages Through In-store Promos, Cause Overlays
Arby’s last month kicked off its NASCAR involvement with a Kenseth-themed combo meal promotion. The company also is offering a free order of curly fries each time the driver wins a race; Arby’s touts the promo through a national media buy and in-store collateral.

The chain plans to use a show car program as an incentive for top-performing franchisees and to promote store openings, Kuehn said.

On the cause marketing front, Arby’s is leveraging its NASCAR partnership with its longstanding tie to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. For each Kenseth win, the company will donate $5,000 to the nonprofit’s chapter in the race market. It also will conduct an essay contest among the nonprofit’s youth participants offering the chance to meet Kenseth.

In addition, the company plans to tout the NASCAR partnership through a dedicated Web site–, which it will use to compile a database for a coupon email campaign.

Arby’s is leveraging its tie to the Academy of Country Music Awards with an instant-win game offering trips to the show and prizes from ACMA cosponsors. Customers who order a value-sized combo meal receive a code to enter on; each contestant also receives a coupon offering a free 32-oz. Dr Pepper. The sweeps is promoted online, in-store, in magazine ads and through email.

How Sponsorship Works At Arby’s
Kuehn oversees and signs off on national marketing programs after receiving input from marketing teams and franchisees.

Sponsorships also emanate from franchisees, which often leverage to promote menu offerings. The Bailey Co. leveraged its sponsorship of last summer’s Arby’s Rocky Mountain Half-Marathon in Denver to showcase its all-natural chicken line and Market Fresh sandwiches.

The Arby’s Foundation operates the Arby’s Charity Tour, a national series of corporate golf tournaments and ancillary fund-raising activities that benefit BBSS and other youth-mentoring organizations.