Schutt's football helmet gives new views of the game [St. Louis Post-Dispatch :: ]
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 20--A quarterback breaks from the huddle, gets the snap and scans the field. He looks left, then right before rocketing a football in the air. Just as the ball is released, thwack -- rushers make their hit.
Now imagine watching this same play from the quarterback's viewpoint.
Schutt Sports, one of the country's largest football helmet manufacturers, debuted its SchuttVision helmet at the start of the year.
The helmet -- made at a manufacturing facility about 80 miles east of downtown St. Louis -- is equipped with an impact-resistant camera less than a half-inch in diameter mounted on the nose bumper above the player's face mask. The camera system has more than two hours of battery life and uses a removable microSD memory card for media storage.
Videos from these cameras have proved popular on YouTube, garnering thousands of views, and clips have aired on ESPN and the CBS Sports Network. The helmet cameras also generated buzz this year when some of the National Football League's top players, including Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wore SchuttVision helmets during spring practices.
The camera records what the player sees -- rushers coming in for a tackle or yellow goalposts coming closer as a receiver weaves across the gridiron to a touchdown -- in high definition.
Schutt is the only major football helmet manufacturer that offers a camera helmet.
There are other cameras on the market that can be attached to a helmet's exterior, but the SchuttVision helmet is the only one that adheres to standards set by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. NOCSAE, a nonprofit group based in Overland Park, Kan., establishes voluntary standards for athletic equipment followed by sports equipment manufacturers.
Schutt's new camera helmet comes as media outlets are hungry for video content and as more players and coaches are increasingly technologically savvy.
"This will revolutionize the way football is broadcast and how it's consumed," Schutt's director of marketing Glenn Beckmann said. "SchuttVision has the potential to be the biggest talked-about product we've made, ever."
The company's roots date to 1918 when its founder, Bill Schutt, sold basketball rims at his hardware store in Litchfield, Ill. Its history includes being first to market with products that later became standard, including manufacturing football's first face guard in 1935. Schutt also is the official base supplier for Major League Baseball, having provided bases for every field used by the league's teams since 1939.
Since January, the company has had an onslaught of interest from teams nationwide for SchuttVision, Beckmann said. All 14 of the Arena Football League's teams have two SchuttVision helmets, and there are more than 30 college and professional football teams using the helmets for recruiting and coaching, including the Jacksonville Jaguars, Auburn University Tigers and University of Miami Hurricanes.
Some rules prohibit when helmet cameras can be used. The NCAA, for example, bans cameras and other recording devices during games.
Despite the restrictions, demand for the helmet cameras has exceeded Schutt's initial sales projections, Beckmann said. Schutt forecast sales of a couple hundred SchuttVisions this year and has already exceeded the forecast.
"We underestimated the demand," he said. "There's definitely a market for this at all levels, but it's not for everyone because of the cost."
SchuttVision helmets aren't inexpensive. They cost between $1,200 and $1,300 compared to $275 for a standard helmet. Teams that have bought the helmets order up to three -- small, medium and large -- rather than outfitting all the players.
So far, Schutt's rivals haven't launched competing products. A spokeswoman for Chicago-based Riddell said the company doesn't have football helmets equipped with cameras as part of its product portfolio.
Rawlings Sporting Goods, based in Town and Country, is not currently working on a football helmet camera, said Ryan Farrar, director of fall products for the sports equipment maker.
"We do understand that the market is going toward technology-based products," Farrar said. Instead, Rawlings is focusing its efforts on developing technology for football helmets that can measure impacts from collisions, he said.
Adding new products has been a focus of Schutt in recent years following a patent fight and bankruptcy that put its future in jeopardy. Schutt filed for bankruptcy in 2010 after losing a patent infringement lawsuit filed by Riddell and was ordered to pay its rival $29 million.
Schutt ultimately reached a settlement to pay Riddell $1 million. Schutt was acquired out of bankruptcy in December 2011 for $33.1 million by billionaire Tom Gores' Los Angeles-based private equity firm Platinum Equity.
After its emergence from bankruptcy, Schutt has kept its local employment levels at around 300, split between its headquarters in Litchfield and its manufacturing facility in Salem, Ill. An additional 100 employees work at a helmet refurbishing plant in a Easton, Pa.
Two years ago, Schutt partnered with a Louisiana-based tech company, Sports Video Innovations, to develop the camera helmets.
JR Liverman, co-founder and CEO of Sports Video Innovations and lifetime football fan, said he came up with the idea of a camera mounted in a football helmet in the middle of the night during a dream.
"I woke up and drew what I had dreamed on the computer," he said.
Liverman built the first prototype in May 2012, working with engineering and product development firm Paragon Innovations in Richardson, Texas, to design the camera.
He shopped his idea to each of the major football helmet manufacturers before contracting an exclusive deal with Schutt.
"They were the only ones willing to do the necessary research and development," Liverman said. His firm now is looking at expanding the cameras to other sports, including hockey, lacrosse and baseball.
All the research and development for SchuttVision is done at its facility in Salem, where the helmets are made. Some face guards are produced at Schutt's facility in Litchfield, where the walls are lined with sports memorabilia and photos of pro players wearing Schutt products.
SchuttVision is primarily used as a coaching and recruiting tool, Beckmann said. The video is downloaded from the SD card, which is taken out of the helmet and can be plugged into a computer.
The sports equipment manufacturer is working with Liverman's firm on making future versions of the helmet wireless. With wireless capability, Liverman said the product has the potential to change the way viewers watch a football game, particularly with sharing videos of sports highlights on social media.
"I believe within the next two years, this will be integrated into in-stadium and broadcast experiences for fans across all levels of football," Liverman said. "So much of the world wants to see live events, and with the growth of social media, this fits nicely into that."
Lisa Brown is a business reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @LisaBrownSTL and the Business section @postdispatchbiz.
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