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Old Rules, New Enforcement

By Angele Chapman

On March 24, 2014, the Bose Corporation extended its contract as a sponsor with the National Football League (NFL, league). The implications of this contract have changed the face of the NFL and how its players use products that are shown on television. On October 5, 2014, Business Insider reported that players were barred from wearing any non-Bose headphones during televised broadcasts.

Beats Electronics, a rival of the Bose Corporation, is a division of Apple Inc., which produces audio products. It gained its popularity and was co-founded by rap producer Dr. Dre and Interscope-Geffren-A&M Records chairman Jimmy Lovine. Many NFL players have contracts with Beats Electronics, commonly known as "Beats by Dre." Most recently, the public has been seeing star players like 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick and Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, wearing "Beats by Dre" headphones during warm-ups and games.

The NFL released a statement confirming Bose's relationship as a sponsor. It was reported that: "Under the terms of its agreement with the league, the NFL confirmed, Bose received a broad set of rights that entitle it to prevent players (or coaches) from wearing any other manufacturer's headphones during televised interviews." The ban includes pre-season interviews and remains in effect until 90 minutes after a play has ended. An NFL spokesperson stated that:"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 2006, running back Reggie Bush was fined $10,000 for wearing Adidas cleats because of the NFL's contractual partnership with Nike and Reebok that prohibited any other brand to be worn during games. This type of enforcement is similar to what occurred during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, when Beats headphones were banned because of FIFA's contractual agreement with Sony.

The question is: If the NFL had these brand exposure policies since the 1990s, why is it only recently enforcing them? Perhaps the league's new legal issues and criticism make it an easy target for heavy sponsors to void their contracts. After the recent incidents with Ray Rice's alleged domestic violence caught on video and Adrian Peterson's child abuse allegations, many sponsors like Procter & Gamble have taken the sidelines when it comes to supporting the NFL's decisions. While Procter & Gamble remains an NFL sponsor, it issued a statement that: "Domestic violence is completely unacceptable and we have strongly urged the NFL to take swift and decisive action to address this issue, and we will determine future actions as needed." This statement comes after Procter & Gamble decided to remove itself from the NFL's Breast Cancer Awareness campaign with its Crest Toothpaste brand. Other companies, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, PepsiCo and Radisson Hotels, have questioned the NFL's handling of its recent legal issues with the players. The possibility of losing millions of dollars in sponsorships could be a reason why the NFL wants to hold on dearly and enforce the contracts with the sponsors that remain.

Another reason as to why the NFL may be enforcing this policy is because Bose sued Apple's Beats Electronics in July 2014 for patent infringement for allegedly infringing on its noise-cancelling technology. In the complaint filed in the United States District Court in Delaware, Bose Corporation alleges that Beats Electronics infringes on five patents, and seeks an injunction and damages for all infringing sales. Although the NFL denies that Bose's contract has influenced its enforcement policies, upcoming litigation may play an underlying role in NFL's decision. This theory is in comparison with Microsoft, which had a $400 million agreement for the NFL to exclusively use the Surface tablet on the field, but announcers and players are still referring to the tablets as "iPads", according to Business Insider.

Whatever reason the NFL gives for enforcing its branding policies, one can expect to see a difference in advertising among players (and coaches) and the technology they use during Monday night football and the upcoming season. While this level of brand enforcement is emerging, players such as Colin Kapernick decided to test how stringent the NFL is willing to go with its rules. After being fined $10,000 for wearing his Beats by Dre headphones during a conference, Kapernick decided to keep his headphones on, but put tape over the logo. So far, it seems as though the NFL is willing to accept the tape as conforming with the regulations and contractual obligations to its sponsors.

Sources:
https://globalpressroom.bose.com/uk-en/pressrelease/view/1318/FALSE/1

http://recode.net/2014/10/04/nfl-bans-beats-headphones-on-camera/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/early-lead/wp/2014/10/05/nfl-bans-players-beats-by-dre-headphones-on-camera-because-of-its-bose-deal/

http://bostinno.streetwise.co/2014/07/25/bose-suing-beats-by-dr-dre-bose-suing-apples-beats/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/early-lead/wp/2014/10/14/colin-kaepernick-sticks-with-beats-by-dre-with-a-little-tape-over-the-logo/

Bose Corporations v. Beats Electronics Complaint: https://docs.rpxcorp.com/lits/641/94801/dedce-55457.pdf?Signature=PoTMsCH7QY29PagvVajsar%2BnEmo%3D&Expires=1412564095&AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAI2UWKALIEYBVOKDA

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 18, 2015 7:03 PM.

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