As we move toward a post-advertising attention economy, sponsors increasingly feel they are buying more than airtime, impressions and exposure. They are buying behaviors. In a notably aggressive marketing move, the Bose sponsorship of the NFL this season requires that NFL players within eye-shot of a TV camera must remove their signature Beats or any rival headphone. Re/code reports the terms of the agreement are quite precise -- preventing players from donning anything but Bose when conducting on-air interviews. The ban covers training sessions, pre-game interviews and post-game interviews in the locker room or on the field and even extends to 90 minutes after the game is over. It is the NFL’s responsibility to police the restrictions on player behavior.
This is not a unique circumstance, of course. Sony’s sponsorship of the World Cup also forced players to stow their Beats headphones in the stadium. And as the NFL contends in its public statement about the arrangement: “The NFL has longstanding policies that prohibit branded exposure on-field or during interviews unless authorized by the league. These policies date back to the early 1990s and continue today.”
In this case, of course, the ban is made a bit more noticeable because the restrictions extend so precisely even off the field. And in the case of Beats, it demonstrates just how fully the brand has become a signature for high-end headphones, partly driven by their popularity among athletes. Controlling logo use in a stadium or on air is one thing. Trying to manage player behaviors is another. And Apple-owned Beats brand was quick to point this out. In their response to the ban, Beats argued that its headphones had become part of the game prep ritual for many players. Beats has a majority of the premium headphone market, easily dwarfing both Bose and Sony. Whether aggressive banning tactics will change any of that seems doubtful. Isn’t the marketing influence of such passive endorsements based on authenticity?
And need we point out the crushing irony in all of this? An NFL league is managing player behaviors regarding what headphones they can wear in the stadium, while at the same time proving to be hapless in addressing one of the most fundamental measures of a player’s character -- whether he abuses his own family.