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Feature

Apple gets free product placement at the World Cup — and everywhere else, too

A new report says that Apple, despite not being an official sponsor, was "the winner of the World Cup," thanks to many players wearing AirPods and Beats headphones. It's getting to be a familiar feeling for Apple.

Apple World Cup



According to a piece published by Quartz, Apple is the "winner" of this year's FIFA World Cup. That's because even though Apple is not an official sponsor of the much-watched global soccer tournament, numerous players on the different World Cup squads have been photographed using Apple products, mostly AirPods and Beats headphones, as they enter and leave stadiums, and onto and off of airplanes.

While the World Cup does not allow "ambush marketing," in which non-sponsoring companies pay athletes on the side to wear certain products, there's not much of an indication that Apple has done that in this case. In fact, rules require athletes to cover up the logos of such non-sponsoring products.

But AirPods and Beats headphones have looks that are so distinctive, Quartz reported, that such efforts have been for naught. This was an issue during the previous World Cup, in 2014, that's only gotten more prominent in the current tournament.

Apple, before the tournament started, touted the many ways its products and services could be used to follow the World Cup, including through Apple News, Siri and various apps.

Apple on the sports margins



Aside from running its TV commercials during games, Apple does not generally engage in high-profile sponsorships with sports leagues and competitions. There's no "Apple Bowl" in college football, not a whole lot of Apple signage inside stadiums of any American sport, and Apple commercials don't usually feature big-name athletes.

But that doesn't mean athletes don't enjoy Apple products. iPhone usage is ubiquitous among sports figures, and in an age when NBA players often make news for their Twitter and Instagram posts, such posts are often sent from iPhones. NBA superstar Stephen Curry was spotted tweeting from iPhone last year even though he had an endorsement deal at the time with Chinese competitor Vivo.

In the last several Olympic Games, with which Apple had no sponsorship agreement, there were similar controversies. In both the London Olympics in 2012 and the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, Samsung handed out Galaxy phones to athletes, while also requesting that they cover up Apple logos that may appear on camera. Even so, plenty of iPhones could be seen as athletes paraded into the stadium for the opening ceremonies during each Olympics.

For the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil,, Apple tried a novel thing, according to News 18: They handed out Apple Watch bands, with references to "Rio" and the flags of individual countries to athletes, while making the bands available exclusively at an Apple Store near the Olympic Village, in Rio de Janeiro. Doing so was perfectly legal, because Apple did not use the Olympic logo or otherwise infringe on any trademarks.

NFL players find a way





Many athletes also have great love for Beats headphones. NFL players were a huge part of Beats' marketing in the time before the company was purchased by Apple, and their enthusiasm hasn't waned under Apple's ownership- nor by the NFL's announcement, before the 2014 season, that Bose was now its official headphone partner.

The deal included the usage of Bose headsets by coaches during games; Motorola had had that exclusive for many years prior to that.

The NFL went on to ban players from wearing Beats headphones during any time when they are on camera, whether during games or interviews or even while entering a stadium before a game. Long before his role in the national anthem controversy, quarterback Colin Kaepernick was fined $10,000 that year for wearing his Beats headphones, during a postgame interview.

NFL players — including Kaepernick, Richard Sherman, and others who had endorsed Beats — were told they had to cover up Beats logos if they were going to wear them. The NFL's Bose deal was renewed in 2017.

Another NFL sponsorship that began around the same time also redounded to Apple's benefit, through no action of their own. In 2013, the NFL announced a five-year, $400 million deal to make the Microsoft Surface "the official sideline technology sponsor of the NFL," a deal that put Surface tablets in the hands of the coaches, for the purposes of play-calling and video review. Since 2017, Microsoft technology has also been used for the referees' instant replay.

During the deal's first couple of years of Microsoft's deal, on numerous occasions, game announcers, players and coaches referred to the Surface tablets as "iPads."

The tablets stopped working for the New England Patriots during one playoff game that they lost, and then-Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler once called the devices "knockoff iPads." Perhaps most memorably, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel banged himself in the head repeatedly with a Surface tablet after throwing an interception:



Apple in entertainment



Apple much more frequently makes deals to insert its products into movies and TV shows. Just this year, MacBooks, iPhones and iMessage figured prominently in the plot of the comedy "Blockers," while an entire movie, "Unsane," was filmed entirely on an iPhone 7.

Of late, Apple has been more open about the product placement deals it reaches, including new agreements with "Saturday Night Live" and the Fox drama "911."

However, just because you see an iPhone, iPad or other product in a movie or TV show, doesn't mean Apple paid for it. In fact, an entire episode of the sitcom "Modern Family" that aired in early 2015 was set entirely within the screen of a MacBook, but was not the result of a direct deal.

On TV as in life



Of course, there's another reason why you see a lot of iPhones and Macs and AirPods in movies, sports and on TV —because you see a lot of iPhones and Macs and AirPods in real life. If something is ubiquitous among the general population, some of that is naturally going to creep into sports, entertainment, and live TV broadcasts, even if no money changed hands in the process.