It is just silicon with a mylar hologram on it. But hundreds of thousands of people across the world have spent some serious money to wear them on their wrist.
If the qualification for CNBC's Sports Product Of The Year is a breakout brand that rocks the sports world, Power Balance bracelets are the only logical choice.
It has spawned imitators like EFX Performance and Power Force. It has been cited by at least one retailer as the most pilfered item in its store. And with more athletes wearing the product without taking a dime of endorsement money than perhaps any other product in sports history, sales don't appear to be slowing down. In fact, Amazon just named it one of its best selling items during the holiday season.
But the rise of Power Balance doesn't come without controversy. Although stars and consumers who wear it swear that it helps them perform or function better, the company's executives have backed off their original claims that the bracelet could help with strength, balance, flexibility and focus. There are no studies that the company points to that proves it works and its new language is fairly ambiguous. On its Web site, Power Balance says the bracelet is "based on the idea of optimizing the body's natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies." The hologram, they say "is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body."
At least one study, performed by the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse and filmed by ESPN's "Outside the Lines," showed that the test that Power Balance users often give to convert new prospects is problematic because there’s a tendency to do better on a test the second time around whether someone is wearing a bracelet or not.
“We absolutely understand that there are going to be skeptics and what we do is we just encourage people to try the product for themselves and let them tell our story and their story,” said Josh Rodarmel, who founded the company in 2007 along with his brother, father and a close family friend. “Try it. If it works for you, great. If it doesn’t, send it back. We offer a 30-day money back unconditional guarantee, no questions asked. But to this point, we’ve had far less than one percent ever return the product.”
Power Balance was recently chastised by the Australian government and fined by Italian and Spanish governments over claims which the company no longer makes. In Spain, where the Department of Health estimated Power Balance sold 300,000 bracelets in the country worth approximately $13 million, they fined the company about $20,000. Italian authorities fined Power Balance approximately $463,000 for deceptive marketing. The company's Italian distributor was also fined about $66,000.