Concussion Fears Spur Demand for Pricier Football Helmets

April 2016

"Everybody wants the concussion-proof helmet, but there's no such thing." -- Rich Pollo, EndZone Sports

The Super Bowl is over, but the controversy around football-related concussions is still growing, especially in world of youth football. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, participation in youth tackle football has dropped almost 20% in the last several years. And while you might think this would be bad for the business of football, one part of the industry might benefit from what some call the sport’s “concussion crisis.” Adrian Ma has more.

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MA: It’s a Monday night in February. And a couple of dozen pee-wee footballers are swarming an indoor field in Long Island.

QB
Red! … Hut! … Hut! … (*smash*)

(SOUND): Crowd cheering, continued under next line.

MA: Number 18 has the ball, and he’s sprinting up field, looking like a four-foot Barry Sanders bobble-head on skates. Suddenly ...

(SOUND): Helmets and pads hitting each other.

MA: ... he collides helmet to helmet with another player ... and crumples to the turf.

COACH
Guys take a knee! 

 MA: An EMT and some coaches rush over.

COACH
Back up … back up.

MA: And after about 20 long seconds, Number 18 is helped up and limps off the field.

 (SOUND): Clapping. Start as previous line ends.

 MA: Monay Williamson says moments like these are hard to watch. Her eight-year-old son, Christian, is also on the field. And while it wasn’t Christian that got hit this time, she says, he’s had his own share of hard knocks.

WILLIAMSON
The other day he did a hit that scared me so bad cause it was like, head to head, and he flipped and everything. And that was really frightening for me. I was so scared. I’m always scared. 

 MA: And Williamson isn’t alone. Parents, coaches, and players are increasingly worried about concussions. And according to the market research firm BCC, that worry is driving consumer demand for better, and more expensive helmets. Last year, the market for football helmets was worth about $100 million dollars, but BCC expects that number to DOUBLE by 2020, to around $200 million.

POLO
Everybody wants the concussion proof helmet, but there no such thing as a concussion proof helmet as far as I know, and if there is then I want to know about it (laughs).

 MA: Rich Polo owns a football supply shop in Long Island called Endzone Sports, and he says as news about concussions has gained public attention, helmet makers have responded by adding lots of new features. 

POLO
Um, basically what you’re seeing is an oversize shell … dual inflation points on the top of the crown … independent bonnet system … individual shock absorbers … the VDT, the DCT … is run by the chin strap (strap sound).

MA: Plastic and foam padding just doesn’t cut it any more. 

POLO
You’ve seen more helmet changes in the past 5 years than you have in the past 30.

 MA: And with all that new technology, comes a higher price tag. A decade ago, a top-notch kids helmet would set you back about $150 dollars, but back at the game Anthony Nace says he paid $300 for a helmet for his son A.J. Nace says, it’s expensive, but worth it. Nace played football for years, and he says, comparing the helmets he used in high school to the one his son uses now, is like comparing …

NACE
… a Hyundai to a Lamborghini … (laughs) …

MA
Really. When you see that price tag do you ever think for a second, maybe not the Lamborghini, but the Accord …

NACE
No … no … it’s not an option. There are certain things you don’t compromise.

MA: Music to helmet makers’ ears. But more expensive helmets might not fix football’s image problem. And that’s something the industry will have to tackle eventually. In New York, I'm Adrian Ma, for Marketplace.

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