Bose vs. Apple's Beats: The NFL Tests Its Limits

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In a deal to monetize anything semi-related to the game, the NFL recently signed another partnership naming Bose as the "Official Sound" of the NFL -- a nebulous title that apparently includes headphones. As a part of the deal, NFL players were banned from appearing on camera with any headphones besides Bose until 90 minutes after a game or face fines in excess of $10,000.

And while the collective bargaining agreement is rather comprehensive, giving the NFL the power to draft these repressive rules in order to increase its marketing deals, at what point does it go too far? If the first couple of weeks has been of any indication, many players are ignoring the ban and instead opting to get fined as a general statement.

As far as investors are concerned, Apple seemed to have inherited Beats' competition with Bose in the headphones accessories space. Although the companies decided to end their court case in which Bose accused Beats of infringing upon its noise cancellation technology, this NFL dispute and rumors that Apple will remove Bose from its online store point toward an uneasy relationship. Apple investors should ask if Bose could present headwinds for their next possible $10 billion business.

Apple's accessories is an important business
Over the last four reporting quarters, Apple's accessories business has become even more important to the company. First, the company provides investors a level of diversification against its star product -- its iPhone. Reliance on the iPhone is a double-edged sword; on one hand, investors benefit as a larger part of sales go toward the higher-margin product. But on the other hand, if Apple becomes overly wedded to one product, the investment becomes riskier.

Next, the accessories business is one that is growing: Over the last four quarters, Apple's accessories business has roughly matched its overall growth -- and that's before buying the Beats' high-growth headphone business. The visual below gives you some context:

Source: Apple's 10Qs. Left Y-axis figures denote revenue and are in millions. Right Y-axis figures are in percentage points and denote year-over-year growth.

While many consider Apple's accessories line to be an afterthought, a way to book sales of EarPods and wireless keyboards, Apple's accessories business is rather large. Consider this, over the last 12 months if Apple's accessories business was its own business, it would be a Forbes Fortune 500 company coming in at No. 432, between Lennar and Sanmina. The iconic brand Harley Davidson, actually comes in two spots lower.

How Bose's missed opportunity became Apple's gain
But it didn't have to be this way. Bose could have dominated the premium headphone market if it would have attempted to. Although Bose was one of the first to market with a premium set of headphones, the company underestimated demand. Famously known for its home audio, premium car audio, and Wave Radio products, the company appeared to spend more money and time marketing those products rather than its earphones.

Even when it marketed its headphones, the company missed out on many in the younger demographic by focusing solely on sound. Apple's Beats positioned itself as a fashion accessory in addition to providing studio-quality sound. And it appears to have worked; estimates vary but most peg Beats as grossing nearly $1.25 billion last year, up from $350 million in 2011 -- 48% revenue growth per year with the vast majority being its headphone business. Although Bose is a private company, Forbes reports Bose grossed $2.5 billion in revenue last year on all its products.

Final thoughts
Although Bose secured the "Official NFL" moniker, one has to wonder if that was the best usage of its ad budget. As far as news coverage goes, this appears to be one large commercial for Apple's Beats with the NFL and Bose appearing to be rather vindictive -- especially so with NFL players with Beats marketing deals.

Bose's best chance to establish headphone dominance was to design a fashion-focused line when Beats was in infancy. Now that Apple (and its $165 billion war chest) owns the brand, Bose will find it tougher to compete, and no amount of NFL fines will change that.

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The article Bose vs. Apple's Beats: The NFL Tests Its Limits originally appeared on

Jamal Carnette has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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