Boehringer Ingelheim had another surprise for baseball fans this opening day. A year after bringing on former New York Yankees star Bernie Williams for its “Breathless” campaign for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), the German drugmaker is back with a partnership with Minor League Baseball (MiLB).
The company, now the “Official IPF Awareness Partner of Minor League Baseball,” will host in-stadium events throughout the season, including 75 “Breathless Blowout” game days across 15 MiLB ballparks. There, fans will receive bubble gum—and encouragement to blow bubbles.
“Minor League Baseball is an organization with an immense fan base, and our partnership will afford us a unique opportunity to take disease recognition to new heights across the nation,” Al Masucci, VP of BI’s IPF business unit, said in an email interview, adding that “our aim is to educate and empower those who think they may have IPF to seek early diagnosis and treatment, and hopefully make a difference in the lives of those affected.”
Many of those games will feature cameos from Williams, who will make appearances throughout the season to support the cause. Williams, who is also a musician, lost his father to IPF in 2001, and he’ll share his story and participate in other game-day events such as throwing out the game’s first pitch or performing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on guitar, BI said.
July 11’s Eastern League All-Star Game will include a special drop-in from Williams, who'll join fans in attempting to break the Guinness World Record for number of bubble gum bubbles blown simultaneously.
“Bernie continues to be a terrific spokesperson and advocate for IPF because he has a true passion for raising awareness of this disease and is dedicated to honoring his father,” Masucci said, adding, “Bernie is genuine in his efforts to turn his experience into a chance to help others.”
BI, whose IPF drug Ofev competes against Roche’s Esbriet, has lately looked to push earlier diagnosis and treatment intervention. It recently trotted out a social media campaign aimed at doctors that asks, “Why Wait in IPF?”
The company has been hard at work drumming up awareness outside of IPF, too. It’s looking to expand nintedanib to treat some scleroderma patients, and in preparation, it rolled out a campaign last month featuring photos and video profiles of 10 people suffering from the disease.
Meanwhile, Boehringer isn’t the first company to join hands with MiLB on disease awareness. Last summer, Kaléo—maker of EpiPen rival Auvi-Q—and the league put together a series of peanut-free baseball games to spread the word about severe allergies. Those games will continue this season, a spokeswoman said.