Legal representatives of helmet manufacturer Schutt sent a letter to the NFL this week telling commissioner Roger Goodell to immediately end deceptive practices on the branding of helmet chin straps, CNBC has learned.
Schutt's competitor, Riddell, has owned the exclusive rights to brand NFL helmets with its logo since the mid 1980s.
Although no Schutt helmets are allowed to display the words "Schutt" on it, players are permitted to wear any company's helmet on the field.
Schutt's marketing communications manager Glenn Beckmann says the company's market analysis, arrived at through training camp surveys and visual identification, leads the company to believe that its NFL player market share has grown 11 percent this year. That would mean that despite the official deal with its competitor, more than 30 percent of NFL players are wearing Schutt, according to Beckmann.
Schutt officials say they know Riddell has a deal with the league, but believe players wearing Schutt helmets while wearing Riddell branded chinstraps is "misleading" and "deceptive." Schutt's representatives said in the letter that the NFL has not curtailed this practive despite previous conversations on the topic.
"Schutt has brought to your attention several times the fact that a number of NFL players that wear Schutt helmets have been using Riddell-branded chin straps, which prominently feature the 'Riddell' brand name," the letter says. "Schutt believes that the NFL has received pressure from Riddell to permit this practice to continue, and has agreed not to take further action in an attempt to appease Riddell."
An NFL official said the league had not yet received the letter as of Friday morning.
The letter goes on to say "to the extent that members of the public may believe there is some affiliation or connection between Schutt helmets and Riddell, those individuals may associate Schutt with injuries suffered by players wearing Riddell helmets."
Tensions are high between the two companies since Riddell sued Schutt, claiming that two of Schutt's helmets were patent infringements on its concussion-reducing technology. In August a federal court in Wisconsin returned a $29 million verdict in favor of Riddell. Although Beckmann said the judge still hasn't signed off on the verdict or the award, Schutt filed for bankruptcy protection a month later.
Players who wear Schutt helmets include Eli Manning, Austin Collie, Deshawn Jackson and Chris Johnson. Last week, Manning and Jackson were wearing Schutt helmets with Riddell chinstraps. Others doing it were Devin Hester, Darren McFadden, Willis McGahee, Brandon Marshall and Jimmy Clausen, according to Schutt officials.
While Schutt is concerned about the practice of branding its helmet with Riddell chinstraps, Beckmann says that on-the-field branding isn't the most valuable part of Riddell's longstanding deal with the league.
"Riddell pays off its payment to the NFL each year thanks to sales of mini helmets to collectors," Beckmann said. "We aren't allowed to make those."
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