NFL Pact With Bose Means Inadvertent Publicity for Beats

Fining Players for Wearing Beats Only Makes Headlines

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Colin Kaepernick in an earlier Beats video.
Colin Kaepernick in an earlier Beats video.

The National Football League's partnership with Bose headphones is providing an unintended publicity boost to competitor Beats Electronics.

Bose in March became the official headphones of the NFL, a partnership that Scott Becher, managing director of Zimmerman Advertising's Z Sports & Entertainment, called "the last piece of beachfront property" for marketing with the richest U.S. sports league.

The product exclusivity portion of the deal says NFL players can't show a competitor headphone's logo during postgame news conferences, But violations of that policy have kept Beats, owned by Apple, in the public spotlight.

The NFL fined San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick $10,000 for wearing his Beats after a game -- generating a flood of headlines mentioning Beats.

"It's marketing gold for Beats," Mr. Becher said in a telephone interview. "How many millions of dollars of exposure are you giving the market leader by outlawing them?"

The answer is at least $2.14 million, according to a study by sponsorship evaluation firm Front Row Analytics, which calculated the advertising equivalent after the Kaepernick fine.

A new round of Beats headlines followed after Mr. Kaepernick showed up at a subsequent press conference still wearing his Beats but with tape over the logo.

One article went on to round up photos of NFL players wearing Beats in their pre-game warmups, where they they are permitted.

Mr. Becher compared the unintended Beats exposure to the 1992 Summer Olympics when Michael Jordan and others on the U.S. men's basketball team, many Nike endorsers, covered the Reebok logo on their warmups during the gold-medal ceremony.

Shawn Bryant, a former National Basketball Association marketing executive, said it reminded him of another Jordan moment in 1985, when the NBA began fining Mr. Jordan for wearing the first iteration of his Nike Air Jordan sneakers because they violated the league's color regulations. Mr. Jordan was fined $5,000 each time he wore the shoes, and Nike used the outlawed status as a positive in its advertising.

"That was one of the things that really gave an early boost to the Jordan brand," Mr. Bryant said. "There is a component here where if you're told you can't do it, it becomes a little more appealing to the consumers."

Kaepernick fine
The Kaepernick publicity was worth more than $2.14 million in equivalent advertising for Beats, according to the Front Row study that covered the news conference and the following five days, including about $56,000 in brand value from a discussion of the fine on ESPN's 30-minute "Pardon the Interruption" show.

"The high values show the power of the NFL broadcasts and more so the power of endorsing a star NFL player with a product that they integrate into their lifestyle and pregame ritual," said Eric Smallwood, senior VP at Philadelphia-based Front Row, a division of Comcast Corp.'s Front Row Marketing Services.

Mr. Kaepernick, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman are among the Beats endorsers who have worn the headphones off the team bus and on an NFL field during warmups, which is allowed under league rules.

Founded in 2006 by rapper Dr. Dre and music executive Jimmy Iovine, Beats was sold in May to Apple for $3 billion, at the time Apple's largest acquisition. The company's high-end headphones rose to popularity because they were constantly seen on celebrity endorsers such as LeBron James, who received a stake in the company in 2008.

"When they write the book on seeding products with celebrities and creating a real grassroots movement, the book will certainly include a chapter on Beats," said Mr. Bryant, now head of business development for New York-based ANC Sports. "They've done a phenomenal job of getting their product into the hands of people at the top of that pyramid of influence."

Bose still ahead
Marketing experts say Bose is still benefiting more from the NFL pact. Front Row estimated that Beats received $384,634 in equivalent ad exposure from Mr. Sherman's wearing the headphones prior to a Monday night game two weeks ago. That same night, the Bose headphones worn by other players created $875,375 in exposure.

Mr. Kaepernick has declined to say whether Apple is reimbursing him for the money he was fined. Mr. Becher and Mr. Bryant both said it would be good business for Beats to pay the money if it kept the debate in the public spotlight.

"All day long," said Mr. Becher. "If I'm Beats, I'm paying those fines all day long."

~ Bloomberg News ~

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