FIFA bans Beats headphones at World Cup, but it may only amplify their appeal

The colorful high-end headphones created by rapper Dr Dre have become a ubiquitous soccer accessory. Neymar likes them Brazil-green. England's Wayne Rooney, white. Luis Suarez, blue. But soccer world governing body FIFA's licensing agreement with rival electronics maker Sony Corp means players have to take them off when they are in World Cup stadiums for official matches and media events.


Yes, the headphones are banned from the pitch by FIFA for licensing reasons, the bulky Beats headphones are a favorite for many of the world's top players, making the World Cup a huge unofficial ad for the company acquired by Apple  last month for $3 billion. Apple hasn’t done anything drastic with the earphones bundled with the iPhone. In fact, in the past decade, Apple earpods have got a major makeover just twice. Now, things could finally change with designers and audio experts from Beats by its side.


Moreover, reports claim that Apple is introducing new specifications for manufacturers in its Made-For-iPhone/iPad/iPod (MFi) program, allowing them to build earphones for iOS with Lightning connector. This means Apple earphones may not work with any other devices in the future. So, would this possibility extend to Beats headphones too?


In fact, Sony this month issued all players participating in the World Cup with a free set of its own headphones they can take to the games. But so far few players have been spotted with them wrapped around their necks.


Marketing experts say that banning the headphones from World Cup stadiums for official matches and media events may probably only amplifies their appeal. Neymar wore them as he stepped off the bus at the Castelao stadium of Fortaleza for Brazil's last training season on the eve of their match with Mexico on Tuesday. Suarez had them wrapped around his neck as he joked with his Uruguay team mates during a break at a recent practice.


"When fans see World Cup athletes wearing Beats in their downtime, by choice, it has as much impact as seeing them lace their Adidas (boots) or sip a sponsored beverage," said strategist Ellen Petry Leanse, a former Apple and Google executive.


"Maybe more, actually – Beats isn't a sponsor, so the message is more authentic and credible."


Moreover, Beats Electronics is also known for "guerrilla marketing" tactics to bypass licensing barriers. During the 2012 Olympics in London, for instance, the company sent thousands of free headphones to high profile athletes including the US basketball team and the entire British delegation, outsmarting official sponsor Panasonic.


Officials at Beats were not available for comment on their strategy at the Olympics and this World Cup.


A five-minute film featuring Neymar, Suarez, Germany's Mario Goetze, Netherlands' Robin van Persie, Mexico's Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and other players wearing Beats headphones released days before the World Cup has been seen by 10.6 million people on YouTube. Its name? "The Game Before the Game".


With input from Reuters