Football Helmet Makers Near Settlement Over Ad Safety Claims

  • Schutt Sports challenged Xenith for touting safest helmet
  • Parties expected to settle suit spawned by NFL helmet tests

The No. 2 maker of football helmets chose Super Bowl week to cry foul over a rival’s ad campaign touting its gear as the safest, but before the coin was tossed in the big game the two companies were on the verge of making up.

Schutt Sports Inc. sued Detroit-based Xenith Inc. Wednesday claiming it misused results of tests commissioned by the National Football League and the NFL Players Association to hype its Epic-model helmet as the safest, including posting an ad on a digital billboard 23 stories above New York’s Times Square.

On Friday, Schutt dropped the suit in anticipation of a settlement with Xenith, Schutt’s Chief Executive officer Robert Erb said. Erb declined to provide details of the accord.

With the film "Concussion" in movie theaters and amid reports of stars, including former Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, being diagnosed with brain injuries caused by blows to the head in their playing days, public awareness of the dangers of the game is at an all-time high. As a result, helmet manufacturers are highlighting differences in the amount of protection their products provide in their advertising.

Schutt’s suit sought to bar Xenith from making the claim: “Xenith’s EPIC Tops Helmet Testing Coordinated by the NFL.”

Krista Ashton, a Xenith spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Comparative Ads

Comparative ads like Xenith’s can be effective, said Michael Palizzi, head of the intellectual-property group at Detroit’s Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone PLC.

“They get the attention of both customers and competitors,” he said.

When a company finds itself on the wrong end of a competitor’s ad claiming superiority based on outside testing, it will scrutinize the results and, if it finds a problem with the testing, will often sue the competitor, Palizzi said.

In the testing, Ottawa-based Biokinetics mounted 17 helmet models on dummies and measured the results of impacts at eight locations, including the facemask, front, side and rear. The NFL and NFLPA reported the results in June, issuing a poster that ranked the models from highest- to lowest-performing, with Xenith’s Epic Varsity model at the top. The Xenith X2E was ranked fourth. Different Schutt models were ranked third, fifth, sixth, 13th, and 17th.

Despite the rankings, the results specified that the 10 helmets in the top group showed no statistically significant difference in performance from one another. The top 10 performers were better than the seven in the lower group, according to the test results.

Schutt has a disclaimer on its website saying: “Scientists have not reached agreement on how the results of impact absorption tests relate to concussions.”

After the original tests, Schutt claims Biokinetics followed up in September by testing its Air XP Pro VTD and DNA Pro Plus models, which weren’t included in the original 17 models tested. The lab updated the earlier results, with Air XP Pro VTD placing first and DNA Pro Plus third, Schutt said in the complaint.

In its suit, Schutt asked a judge to order Xenith to pull the ads and to pay unspecified damages.

Rosemont, Illinois-based Riddell Inc. is the biggest maker of football helmets.

The case is Kranos I.P. Corp. v. Xenith LLC, 16-cv-00837, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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