Thursday, May 7, 2015

NFL's Fight Of The Year: Beats By Dre -vs- Bose Headphones

A Battle for Eyes Is Waged via New N.F.L. Players’ Ears

CHICAGO — It was a moment that all company executives crave: a celebrity wearing their product on prime-time television.

Marcus Mariota, the unassuming Hawaiian quarterback who played at Oregon, provided such a moment on Thursday when he was chosen second over all in the N.F.L. draft by the Tennessee Titans.

As Commissioner Roger Goodell read Mariota’s name in Chicago, thousands of miles from Honolulu, where he was with family members and friends, millions of fans watching on television saw Mariota put on white Beats by Dre earbuds.

To the uninitiated, the act was innocent. But to Beats, the headphone maker owned by Apple, it was marketing gold because its chief rival, Bose, is an official N.F.L. sponsor.

Companies pay the N.F.L. and other sports leagues tens of millions of dollars for the right to be an exclusive sponsor. In the case of Bose, that includes very valuable on-field rights: All coaches wear Bose headsets on the sidelines during games.

But because business is war, leagues like the N.F.L. fight a never-ending battle to ensure that their sponsorships remain exclusive and are not eroded by competitors.

Jameis Winston, taking a call from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, also used Beats by Dre earbuds. It was marketing gold for the company, because official N.F.L. sponsors pay tens of millions of dollars for exclusive rights.
Credit Butch Dill/Associated Press

“Every advertiser is looking for an edge, and if they’re not the exclusive sponsor, they have to try to outsmart the league a little bit,” said Bob Dorfman, who writes the Sports Marketers’ Scouting Report, which analyzes athletes’ potential endorsement power. “The leagues do what they can, but usually these things happen, and by then it’s too late.”

Mariota has not signed an N.F.L. contract, so he is not officially in the league. It is unclear whether he could be penalized for being shown wearing something produced by a company that is not a league sponsor.

Athletes are free to sign sponsorships with any company, but they are prohibited from wearing clothing or accessories made by companies that are not N.F.L. sponsors during postgame interviews, said Brian McCarthy, a league spokesman.

The N.F.L. would have asked Mariota to remove his Beats earbuds if he had tried to wear them at the draft in Chicago. McCarthy added that Bose had already signed deals with 20 top prospects.

But Beats may have gotten more for its money. It signed deals with Mariota; Jameis Winston, who was drafted first over all by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; and Amari Cooper, who was selected fourth by the Oakland Raiders, something the company announced on Twitter on Thursday night after all three had been chosen.

Coincidentally, all three players were not in Chicago, making it easier for them to wear their Beats by Dre gear.

Beats has earned a reputation as an upstart marketer. At the London Olympics in 2012, many swimmers wore Beats by Dre when they entered the aquatic center.

The visibility of Beats by Dr. Dre was no accident. The company created customized Union Jack headphones that were given to many of the British Olympic athletes, and it provided standard models to athletes from many other teams, ensuring that viewers who watched events in swimming, tennis, gymnastics and more would get long, repeated looks at the headphones on television.

The N.F.L. has wrestled with Beats as well.

Last season, the first for Bose as the league’s official headset provider, the N.F.L. fined San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick $10,000 for wearing Beats headphones around his neck at news conference. Kaepernick declined to say if Beats paid the fine for him.

At media day for the Super Bowl, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch appeared onstage in a “Beast Mode” cap from his own clothing line, something that seemed as if it might result in a fine.

The cap, it turned out, was made by New Era, an N.F.L. licensee. No harm, no foul. — Ken Belson | The New York Times

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