Waltrip NASCARCorporate sponsorships have long been synonymous with NASCAR. But increasingly, nonprofit causes are also finding a place.

An agreement among NASCAR, driver Michael Waltrip, whose mother’s untreated atrial fibrillation led to a debilitating stroke, and sponsor Janssen Pharmaceuticals is one of the latest example of how sports events are becoming important sponsorship opportunities as nonprofits try to cut through a fragmented media market.

The multifaceted campaign is reaching audiences about the heart condition at NASCAR fan experiences, including the MyAFibStory.com 400 race at the Chicagoland Speedway earlier this month and the MyAFibStory.com website.

Also, Fans are asked to upload their photos to MyAFibStory.com by Oct. 3 for a chance to have their face on Waltrip’s No. 66 MyAFibStory.com Toyota Camry in a race Oct. 19 at the Talledega Superspeedway. For every eligible photo, Janssen will make a contribution to the American Heart Association, up to $75,000.

“Sports is still must-see TV,” said Lance Kinney, Ph.D., an associate professor specializing in sports event sponsorship for the University of Alabama.

Sports fans not only watch the events live, they also continue engaging with their teams through websites and social media. The social media components are especially important for making a message stick because it invites the audience to participate in carrying a message forward, Kinney said.

“When you create a behavioral response, the persuasion will be stronger, longer lasting, and the relationships between all parties will be strengthened,” he said.

AFib isn’t NASCAR’s only health awareness campaign. Since 2010, the racing organization’s DRIVE4COPD campaign has been responsible for screening nearly 3 million NASCAR fans for the COPD, a debilitating lung disease, said Jim O’Connell, NASCAR’s chief sales officer.

“We believe we can make a difference through these unique partnerships by driving awareness, educating our millions of fans and facilitating screenings at-track,” O’Connell said.

An estimated 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib, which is the most common type of irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. AFib can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

People with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke, the leading cause of serious, long-term disability and the No. 4 cause of death in Americans. Strokes that occur in AFib patients tend to be larger strokes and often cause more disability. But awareness about the risk of stroke remains low. Only 10 percent of AFib patients report being concerned about stroke.

MyAFibStory.com includes information on the importance of reducing the risk of stroke and treatment options.

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