For all the noise about concussions and helmets, some interesting news was all but buried yesterday. During a formal day-long conference put on by the NFL, top researchers and equipment makers gathered in name of improving helmet safety.
That’s where Dr. Hunt Batjer, co-chair of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee was asked whether the NFL should have an official provider of helmets.
“My preference would be that it did not,” Batjer said. “Certainly there is not now nor will there be any restriction for any player on which device they use as long as the helmets are tested and they pass the NOCSAE standard.”
Players can use helmets made by Riddell competitors like Schutt and Xenith, but, through a deal made with the league through 2013, Riddell is the only helmet manufacturer that can have its name on the helmets.
Still, the doctors on the panel were not comfortable with the impression that the official deal leaves with consumers. “In my opinion, it is not a good thing,” Dr. Robert Cantu, senior advisor to the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee. “It does give the perception, if not the reality, of an uneven playing field.
Cantu went on to say that if the league is going to get behind one helmet company it should be supported by “on the field head-to-head comparison of all helmets.”
In the best interest of player safety, it certainly provided an awkward moment for one of the NFL’s sponsors, as league commissioner Roger Goodell hinted that Riddell’s future of having exclusive on the field helmet branding rights might be numbered.
“When (the license expires), we will welcome all helmets from a commercial standpoint on the field,” Goodell said.
“Riddell is committed to providing the very best head protection to all players who wear its helmets,” said Riddell president Dan Arment, in a statement. “The National Football League has maintained Riddell as the official helmet of the NFL for more than 20 years, but that designation does not preclude or prohibit any player from choosing to wear the helmet of his choice.”
The NFL estimates that 75 percent of helmets used this season are made by Riddell, 23 percent are made by Schutt, with about two percent market share owned by Xenith.
There’s bad blood between Schutt and Riddell, as Schutt filed for bankruptcy in September after a federal judge returned a $29 million patent infringement verdict in favor of Riddell. Last month, Schutt sent a letter to the leagueafter it noticed that players were wearing Riddell chinstraps with Schutt helmets.
Schutt is up for sale in a bankruptcy auction that is scheduled to take place on Dec. 14.
Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com