Spend Matters welcomes a new guest post from Zach Azoulay, who recently received a Bachelor of Science in Supply Chain and Operations from Miami University’s Farmer School of Business.
It’s actually very simple. If you build a better, safer football helmet, people will beat a path to your door. The National Football League (NFL) ought to be leading the pack, considering that they face nearly 4,000 concussion-related lawsuits at present. Furthermore, the NFL serves as the model to emulate for the 60,000+ National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes and ultimately for the 4.4 million high school and youth players who suit up for the grid iron ever year. However, according to a recent controversial study performed at Virginia Tech University, which rated helmets on a 5-star system, the NFL is protecting their athletes with helmets that earn only 2 or 3 stars. This level of mediocrity is an alarming standard coming from the NFL. Since this is the standard acceptable to the NFL, it trickles down to the NCAA and to youth players across the nation.
Supply chain is the cumulative effort of many organizations with the ultimate goal to get the right product to the right end user. In these chain efforts, the right user is often ignored as the price of focusing on what is deemed the “major” group. In this case, distribution of newer, better helmets that are presently available have been shelved waiting for the NFL to place a stamp of approval on them. Riddell, Xenith, Rawlings, and Schutt have designed significantly safer helmets that not only reduce the frequency of concussions and brain trauma, but also the potential of heat stroke deaths. With the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), football helmets can measure the impact of a head collision and gauge an athlete’s body temperature to thwart potential heat stroke. The data from the RFID is transmitted to a coach’s phone or tablet within seconds.
Protective sports equipment is a $1.9 billion industry, estimated to reach $2.1 billion by 2018. Is it time for the channel management of these safer helmets to be revisited? Nearly 500,000 high school athletes will receive concussions this year, and on average each year, 12 high school and college football players die during practice or games. Clearly, getting the NFL on board with these improved helmets would be the best way to initiate this supply chain path. The NCAA would quickly follow suit with similar helmets, which in turn would generate the demand in the largest market available: youth football. However, is netting the big fish the only way to get this initiative in motion? The billions of dollars available in protective equipment are not limited to professional sports. In fact, the greatest pool of dollars is outside of the NFL, which means that the narrow vision of gaining NFL support should be reconsidered.
Every weekend, a million young athletes gear up to hit the turf. These athletes represent the true end users in the helmet supply chain, and the market needs to take a more aggressive approach in creating the demand for these improved helmets, along with determining the best method for delivering the supply. The market potential is vast and could prove to be lucrative if Customer Management Relations are extended to parents, coaches and entities involved with youth sports. They are the basis of a solid marketing strategy, which include the components of market focus, product focus, measurable specifics, and responsibility and accountability. The NFL may choose to procrastinate, but the other remaining entities involved with the flow of these safer helmets should tackle this initiative head on.