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The New York Post

Easton-Bell Sports, whose Riddell helmets are worn by a majority of NFL players, failed to find a buyer for the whole company last year because of the liabilities associated with gridiron concussions, The Post has learned.

As a result, the company, an $800 million diversified sports equipment maker owned by New York private equity firm Fenway Partners, with divisions that produce hockey, cycling and baseball gear and accessories, will look to sell individual brands, a source with direct knowledge of the situation said.

Under that changed strategy, Fenway is now very close to selling the company's growing Easton baseball and softball helmet and bat business to publicly traded Bauer Performance Sports, two sources close to the situation said.

Easton baseball and softball sales were up 21 percent for the quarter ended Sept. 28.

Fenway is also willing to sell its other divisions, which include the Giro bicycle accessories brand, the Bell cycling and motorcycling helmet brand and the Blackburn bike brand, sources said.

Riddell, an 85-year-old company whose football helmets are worn by Pop Warner players up through pro players, generates roughly $200 million in annual sales, representing about one-quarter of the company's revenue.

Certain Easton-Bell divisions are named in 56 lawsuits filed by former NFL players, the company said in a regulatory filing. Overall, sales fell 5.5 percent in the nine months ended Sept. 28, to $608.6 million.

Despite a report last spring by Reuters that Easton-Bell was interviewing advisers to sell the company and sources who told The Post last week that the sale effort failed, one person close to the company said the entire Van Nuys, Calif., company was never on the block.

Fenway Partners has owned Easton-Bell since 2004, and private-equity firms typically buy and sell companies within five years. Also, Fenway, unable to raise a new fund, is under pressure from investors to sell its few remaining companies, sources said.

Riddell's deal to be the official helmet of the NFL, which started in 1989 and was scheduled to run in perpetuity, expires with Sunday's Super Bowl. The NFL, concerned about the growing issue of concussions suffered by its players and the implication of "selling exclusive branding rights" to a single company, according to a report by espn.com last year, put the kibosh on the Riddell deal.

As the official helmet, the brand is the only one allowed to be shown on player helmets. All other brands must be hidden.

The NFL's $765 million legal settlement with a group of suing former players over concussions was recently rejected by a federal judge as being too low. That settlement did not include Easton-Bell.

Also, Riddell is now appealing a Colorado state court ruling that found it liable for $3.1 million in damages due to a player's injury.

Easton-Bell will likely use the proceeds from the expected baseball sale to pay much of its $326 million in debt, sources said.

Fenway and Bauer declined to comment.

 

January 27, 2014

 

 
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