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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Part 6 Helmets

This post is parting from the others because I will be talking about companies who have already entered lacrosse, but may be entering a whole new world. Lacrosse Helmets have long been the sole property of Cascade and Riddell, but a few companies have already started to challenge that. Warrior, Brine, and Gait have all introduced helmets in the last few years in an effort to keep their sponsored schools and youth programs wearing one brand. It is possible that Cascade's days as THE lacrosse helmet supplier are limited as more and more brands go that route.
However, there is the distinct possibility that Cascade will remain as the preferred choice when a specific brand offers no helmet of their own or when self-sustained programs purchase helmets. For years, CCM was the default helmet for many hockey players as very few equipment suppliers produced their own lids. Even though Mission, NikeBauer, and Easton all have helmets of their own, many Louisville, Warrior, and Fury endorsed players continue wearing the CCM and its RBK sibling. Maybe Cascade's entry into the hockey helmet business will turn this around...
So how does this relate to lacrosse? As I stated above, three companies (alright, technically two companies since Brine and Warrior are both owned by New Balance) have already entered the helmet market. Gait's helmets are considered ugly by most fans, but are still widely used. Part of their popularity comes from their one-size-fits-all easy adjustment system. This had led Virgina, a top-notch NCAA program, to use Gait helmets.
Warrior's Venom helmet is relatively new and uses an air system to allow a one-size-fits-all method. Its looks are radical in terms of lacrosse helmet design, but still aesthetically appealing. The wrap around stripes converge to form a large W on the back of the skull, which is pretty cool considering it is a Warrior helmet.
Brine seems to be the most popular of the three. Its Triumph helmets are stylish and comfortable. Their sight lines are outstanding and their protection is top notch. Their biggest hurdle is the lack of universal sizing. Having to purchase helmets for different sized heads is problematic for programs with smaller budgets and mathematically eliminates Brine from their orders (especially since needs can vary from year to year).
That brings us to the new helmets looming on the horizon. Ever since rumors started swirling about Nike entering the lax market, talk of a helmet came about. This helmet is alleged to be a joint project with STX aimed primarily at having a full line of Nike/STX lax gear for sponsorship purposes and for a greater share of the overall market. Nike entered the fray to capitalize on the rapidly expanding lacrosse market and chose to do business with a like-minded and reputable company with whom they already had a relationship. Many Nike sponsored schools have used STX for years, so it was a natural fit.
Nike/STX will most likely do some sort of joint branding scheme on their helmets (similar to NikeBauer's hockey equipment), with some combination of the swoosh and STX logo. Lacrosse offers many possibilities for the helmets designs. Imagine, if you will, ear vents shaped like miniature swooshes. Top vents could be shaped as S-T-X. The whole look would be cutting edge and futuristic, like most of the STX line (check out the Cell & G22 lines for example). The fact that most of the top NCAA programs would be wearing these helmets would only enhance their credibility.

On the other side of the coin sit Reebok & Adidas. Although they are one company, their lacrosse gear is completely separate. Reebok's stuff is made in house and Adidas' is made through a license (The Henson Group). Reebok is considered pro quality and Adidas has the stigma of a "newbie." No doubt the difference in quality comes from Reebok's work in hockey where CCM technology has produced out standing sticks and pads for the Vector. These materials are so similar to lacrosse that only a few minor tweaks were needed to create high quality gear. Their stranglehold on the NLL gave them plenty of testing and feedback opportunities as well.
The Henson Group/Adidas created their gear from scratch. Overall, it has not gotten terrible reviews, just not great reviews. This project was underway before Adidas bought Reebok, which is why a collaboration/cross-development system did not occur. Perhaps the Henson license will expire in a couple of years and the Adidas gear will be produced alongside the Reebok. The smart move at that point would be to make Adidas the upscale brand, but so far they have tried to make the two relatively equal.

As far as a helmet is concerned, there has been no solid talk yet. Still, I am sure that the company would like to bring at least one lid to the market. If only one brand brings a helmet to the table, my prediction is that it will be branded as Reebok. Again, they can capitalize on their hockey experience to produce a high quality helmet that any player would be proud and comfortable wearing. Design elements could incorporated vector logos and the sleek channels that adorn their hockey helmets. It would be curvy a la their glove line and probably compact like a Gait helmet. Bringing the corporate element into it, the ear vents could easily be made into Adidas' current trefoil logo. This would be a shout out to the corporation without taking away the fact that it is a Reebok helmet. It would be easy to modify the helmet for Adidas by removing the Vectors and carrying a "three stripe" theme with the vents. I would guess that Adidas will not have a helmet until their license with Henson is up.

Would helmets from Nike/STX and Adidas/Reebok be successful? I would yes, at least with new players. More experienced lacrosse players seem very reluctant to change, especially when it comes from a meg-entity like these. While they have embraced Maverik and Scorpion, time will tell on the BIG three. Reebok has gained some popularity among traditional laxers, no doubt due in part from their NLL sponsorship. Nike's relationship with STX will make them catch on, but their price points may turn off several buyers. Still, their helmets stand a decent chance since almost every helmet on the market falls in the $100-$225 price range. Landing somewhere in their and identifying key competitors and specific models will be crucial. Both have a great shot at producing high quality gear that is highly coveted because their hockey helmets are two of the most popular lines in that industry. It should not take much to translate that success to lacrosse.

Tribe 7