Mayfield Athletics Suing NOCSAE and Helmet Makers for Antitrust Violations
As if the football helmet business hasn’t had enough problems to worry about the past few years, now comes word that Mayfield Athletics, a Michigan-based sports equipment company, has filed official antitrust and tort litigation against the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) and three football helmet manufacturers, Schutt, Riddell and Xenith.
Mayfield Athletics alleges that NOCSAE’s positions and official statements surrounding standards for aftermarket and add-on products for helmets have unlawfully restrained trade and competition in the national market for football safety equipment and accessories.
The allegations in Mayfields’ complaint center on the existence of “multiple contracts, combinations and conspiracies” between the helmet manufacturers and NOCSAE to maintain a monopoly on the market for football safety equipment and accessories. As a result, aftermarket product manufacturers such as Mayfield, which makes the S.A.F.E.Clip, have been denied access to the market for such products, the suit alleges.
In explaining the reasons behind its lawsuit, Mayfield writes on its website:
“Simply stated, we are fighting for every athlete, parent, coach, athletic director, equipment manager, and league owner previously denied access to using genuine, high quality, and lab-tested products that help to improve the safety and performance of a football helmet.
“We are also fighting for our fellow aftermarket and add-on product companies who are victims of NOCSAE’s self-serving and cost-intensive processes for an illusory stamp of approval that – the organization itself has acknowledged – is virtually meaningless. Like you, we are a victim to NOCSAE’s various contradictory and ineffectual positions and statements which have empowered leading helmet manufacturers to operate as third-party gatekeepers for aftermarket and add-on products.”
To many observers in the team sports business that rationale sounds similar to the arguments that Markwort has put forth concerning NOCSAE and its C-Flap baseball helmet accessory.
“Over the past several years, Mayfield Athletics has engineered and rigorously tested S.A.F.E.Clip, an aftermarket facemask clip proven to reduce G-force impact by as much as 35 percent. NOCSAE-approved labs, as well as other independent labs, have confirmed such reductions,” says Jim Hewson, legal counsel for Mayfield Athletics. “Unfortunately, while NOCSAE has established standards for football helmets, it has publicly and privately maintained that facemask attachment hardware, such as S.A.F.E.Clip, is not certified and cannot be certified given the lack of NOCSAE standards for such hardware.”
“NOCSAE’s decades of influence and public statements have created the belief in consumers that products with a NOCSAE sticker are synonymous with safety,” Henson continues. “Consequently, products that NOCSAE claims fail to meet their standards, or, as in our case, for which they never even created a standard in the first place, are denied and disapproved. Furthermore, and even more detrimental, are NOCSAE’s various contradictory and blame-shifting statements and positions that empower helmet manufacturers to operate as third-party gatekeepers for aftermarket and add-on products.”
The complaint also states allegations based on NOCSAE’s various lucrative licensing agreements with Schutt, Riddell and Xenith under which the manufacturers pay a per unit fee in exchange for use of NOCSAE’s trademarked logo or phrase on the products themselves, as well as product packaging, instructions, documentation, and marketing materials. Most aftermarket and add-on products are ineligible for a similar licensing agreement because of the absence of NOCSAE standards for these products and the gatekeeping role NOCSAE allows helmet manufacturers to play.
“We acknowledge our experiences are not isolated. We are fighting for the rights of all manufacturers of aftermarket and add-on products for football helmets,” comments Justin Summerville, CEO of Mayfield Athletics. “Additionally, we are fighting for the millions of consumers and football players who have been deterred, prevented, or denied from purchasing aftermarket products that have the potential of dramatically increasing the safety of the sport.”
The lawsuit was filed on September 16, 2019, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Case No. 2:19cv12712 GAD/EAS.
To read the filed complaint, or for more information on the litigation: getsafeclip.com/calltoarms.