NFL, Riddell ending helmet deal

The 2013 season will be the last to feature Riddell as the official helmet of the NFL, a league spokesman and the company confirmed Thursday night.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league agreed in 1989 to give Riddell rights to be the official helmet of the NFL in perpetuity after a slew of helmet manufacturers went out of business. But, McCarthy said, the league recently renegotiated the deal to have it end at the conclusion of the 2013 season.

"We are proud of our relationship with the NFL," Riddell said in a statement to ESPN.com on Thursday night, acknowledging for the first time publicly that the deal would end. "We are also very proud of the fact that year after year a majority of NFL players choose to wear Riddell helmets -- a true testament to our relentless efforts to protect athletes. While it is accurate that our current NFL agreement will expire next year, we look forward to a continued positive and productive relationship with the NFL in the future. We are confident that we will continue to be the helmet of choice of our nation's elite football players."

According to an account published this week by SI.com, commissioner Roger Goodell said at a youth league event this summer in Fairfield, Conn., that the league "had to use quite a bit of leverage" to end the deal.

But during the past few years, as the league became increasingly focused on concussions, NFL officials were more concerned about the implication of selling exclusive branding rights to one helmet company over another. At an NFL-sponsored youth Play 60 event last year in New York City, the league had a variety of helmet manufacturers displaying their products to children and parents.

NFL players can wear any helmet they want as long as it complies with prescribed standards, but Riddell is the only company whose name can appear on the helmet's nose bumper. For the roughly one-third of the league's players who don't use a Riddell helmet -- and instead use its competitors, including Schutt, Xenith and Rawlings -- the nose bumper plate remains blank.

Riddell currently pays for this privilege as well as the right to produce regular-size and mini helmets with league logos on them that are most frequently sold to autograph collectors.

While the NFL reached a $765 million settlement with former players on its concussion litigation, thousands of former players are still suing Riddell, claiming the helmet manufacturer, among other things, overemphasized how much the helmet could prevent brain injury.

"We believe these complaints are without merit and we are vigorously defending against them," Riddell's parent company, Easton-Bell Sports, said in a 10-Q filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year.

The company also revealed in the filing that it had product liability insurance and had begun to put those carriers on notice and, in some cases, had already sued carriers to pay defense costs.