Boardroom spoke to Riddell about its newest helmet and how it customizes the design and tech within to suit each individual player.
Riddell’s Axiom helmet has infiltrated every level of football, making its debut this fall on football players from high school and college to the NFL. The new headgear features the first visor-integrated helmet along with other tech, including impact monitoring and custom-fitting scans.
“The first comparison is always to futuristic science-fiction things like Power Rangers or Halo,” said Joey Levene, one of Riddell’s engineering managers in a Zoom interview. “The design of the Axiom helmet is an evolution of our Speedflex helmet. We always try to carry on design language with our football helmets so just as the Speedflex was an evolution of the speed helmet, the Axiom is the next step up.”
The Axiom comes with multiple new components, including:
- More flex panels on the shell, located at both sides and the rear of the helmet. The addition of the panels adds flexibility to the shell.
- The newly designed facemask is one of the most noticeable changes. Where most helmets usually attach to the shell at the forehead, the Axiom’s design has a “chin-bar” faceguard. Riddell removed the top bar from traditional faceguards because it allowed for more flexibility in the forehead area. Instead, it placed a visor there, attaching it to the forehead part of the helmet.
- Riddell scans every Axiom helmet based on the player’s head. The scan analyzes 285 points on a person’s head, then Riddell uses the data to select a padding configuration.
“All of these features create a high-end tailored suit feel of customization for players,” Levene said. “We have gotten a lot of feedback that it is the most comfortable helmet that players have worn.”
Players may be concerned that removing the top bars from the forehead area would make their eyes vulnerable.
“There are more and more players wearing visors of different variety and knowing that trend and the design intent of our helmet, we designed the first football helmet with an integrated visor,” Levene said. “The visor is not just an add-on it is sold with every single Axiom helmet as a standard component. It provides that extra sense of security for inadvertent fingers to the eye during play while also satisfying that need of trend toward visors being worn on the field at different levels.”
The Player Perspective
Once Riddell completes the helmet’s production, it begins an entirely different process. The next step is getting players to see the headgear. When Riddell employees present the helmet to club equipment managers, the intent is not to persuade them to change their helmet, but to present them with information on their new product.
It is no secret that NFL players are often passionate about their helmets. In 2019, both Tom Brady and Antonio Brown criticized NFL policies that did not allow them to wear their then-helmets.
“Players can be very used to their ways and the fit of their helmet that they are in,” said Drew Bley, a product manager at Riddell, during the Zoom interview. “There are also some that are very open to products that will help them in a certain way. For example, the vision of the Axiom has hands-down been one of the most positive feedbacks we have gotten.”
Ezekiel Elliott is one of the players who has sung the Axiom’s praises. The Cowboys running back said in a press conference, “they come out with the new Ford F-150. You got the old one, you want the new one.”
J.J. Watt also praised the comfort. But the three-time Defensive Player of the Year also offered feedback. Watt tweeted in June: “This is the most comfortable helmet I’ve ever worn but damn [it is] ugly. Let’s collaborate on these face masks @RiddellSports.”
It will take time for the Axiom’s look to evolve, as Riddell only announced the helmet in January.
“We are at the tip of the iceberg,” Levene said. “We typically launch a helmet platform and then for the next 10 years we are innovating on that platform with different faceguards, interior liners and visors. The design will evolve as we figure out more about what our customers’ needs are. Right now we really only have four different styles of faceguards.”
Bley added that many players wearing the helmet have looked past the lack of customization in favor of the increased vision the helmet provides.
“The peripheral vision that it opens up is a game changer,” Bley said. “It is the difference in seeing a safety crash down on you as a receiver or a receiver looking at a ball coming down over top.”
Thus far, according to Riddell, there are about 6,000 Axiom helmets on the field across levels of competition. The starting price point for teams will be $600 per helmet. The Riddell SpeedFlex helmet, another popular Riddell product, costs $400 each for teams.
Levene, however, does not foresee a day where Axiom helmets will be available for individual purchase on Amazon.
“The fact that you need to have a head scan in order to order this helmet means that there is not going to be a day where someone can go on Amazon and buy a Riddell Axiom helmet,” he said. “Our head-scanning technology allows anyone to scan from their smart phone, you just need an app and a login.”
Riddell is still evaluating launching an app to more than just team reps, coaches, and equipment managers. One day, parents could also be able to scan their child’s head and purchase the helmet.
The $400-$600 price point is $200 more than every individual helmet currently listed on DICK’S Sporting Goods’ and Play it Again Sports’ websites. The price points for each helmet would likely go down if purchased at the price of a team grouping. Outside of protection in the form of pads in the lining of the helmet, the reason for the price is the technology within it. Each Axiom helmet comes with InSite Smart helmet technology that measures an impact’s location and the severity of hits.
The system is active every moment a player is on the field. The analytics go in-depth about each player with a proactive approach. If a player is consistently receiving higher-impact hits on the top of the helmet, a Riddell representative can alert a team member and let them know the player needs to focus on lifting their head so they can avoid injury.
Sources told Boardroom that the NFL is not yet using the tech within the helmet, but some colleges and high schools are.
Even without the league using Riddell’s tech, Levene is still excited about Riddell’s products can go in the future.
“There is a trend toward mass customization and smart helmet technology and that is on a collision course with all of our product design innovations,” he said. “We are headed toward data-driven customization. We always refer to it as “my helmet” which would be a helmet that is not only designed to custom fit to one specific player but is tuned for one specific player as well.”
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