Sports Illustrated Publishes Unflattering Article on Football Helmet Business

Do you sell football helmets? Then you have to read one of the best articles on the challenges this multi-billion dollar industry faces in the November 18-25 issue of Sports Illustrated where, in a story entitled “When Helmet Safety Meets Capitalism,” the magazine takes a close and not very flattering look at the state of the helmet game.

In what could be considered a somewhat damning portrayal of the football helmet business, SI starts with these opening paragraphs:

“Welcome to the most innovative and complicated corner of the sports world. To a market that’s morphing in ways both impactful and uncertain. To a space that is more focused on safety than ever before…and yet, insiders insist, not as safe as some suggest. Welcome to the football helmet industry, where even the highest executives can sympathize when, say, Antonio Brown, is unable to make sense of the changing landscape. Where the CEO of one company says, “I’m not aware of another industry like it. Where the NFL’s vice president of health and safety policy assesses, yes, there have been gains, “but there’ s substantial room for improvement.” Where a qualified outsider – an expert of traumatic brain injuries – scoffs, “I don’t like to talk about helmets, because it’s such as f----- up market.”

And that’s only the beginning of a look inside of what SI says, quoting a study by 360 Research reports, is a market that will grow by $10 million over the next five years, to $150 million, despite declining football participation and continued safety concerns. The reason? Models that cost $150 a decade ago now start at closer to $500 and march on the upwards of $1000 for high-end versions.

Quoting execs from relative helmet newcomer Vicis an explaining the intricacies of the Virginia Tech helmet rating system, SI paints a picture of an industry seemingly dedicated to safety but ultimately focused on the marketing and science that leads to the bottom line. Si concludes that the issues faced by the football helmet business may ultimately be solved by outside entities, such as military, medical and space age research that will eventually be applied to the more mundane world of football safety.

The article concludes:

“One can imagine, someday, an ideal scenario (or at least something far less messy than the current landscape) where innovations geared toward far-off battlefields or operating rooms are showcased on Sunday afternoons. Where football helmets are regulated with more scrutiny, subject to rigorous clinical trials. Where they’re marketed with claims backed by science.

“Where safety is a goal, not a marketing tool.”