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Bauer agrees to back off claims of concussion protection

Kevin Davis, president and CEO of Performance Sports Group, is shown at the TMX Broadcast Centre in Toronto in 2011.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Bauer Hockey Corp. has agreed to stop claiming that one of its hockey helmets protects players from certain kinds of concussions, after an investigation by the Competition Bureau.

The watchdog announced Thursday that it had reached a settlement with Exeter, N.H.-based Bauer that will see the company eliminate certain claims in its advertising and product packaging, donate $500,000 to an unnamed youth sports charity, and pay $40,000 for the cost of the investigation.

The product at issue is Bauer's pricey RE-AKT helmet, which was introduced with a splash in 2012 as concerns about concussions rose in the wake of a head injury that sidelined National Hockey League superstar Sidney Crosby.

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The helmet retails for as much as $269 – a much higher price tag than more basic hockey headgear, which can cost as little as $35.

Bauer says the RE-AKT accounts for only 5 per cent of its Canadian helmet sales.

The Competition Bureau said Bauer, which fully co-operated with the investigation, produced advertising that "contained words, images and videos" that "created the impression that the product would offer hockey players protection from concussions caused by rotational impacts."

The bureau says that while Bauer did conduct testing on the helmet, "the testing was not adequate and proper to support the marketing claims."

Steve Jones, a spokesman for Bauer, said the company denies ever specifically claiming its helmets would protect against concussions.

However, he said the company respects the bureau's decision and agreed to modify some of its marketing.

"I think that's the key word, impression," he said, referring to the bureau's statement on Bauer's advertising. "And it's their impression that it does [claim to protect against concussions] and it's our impression that it does not."

But he also said that Bauer had done "extensive testing, both internally and third-party testing" on its helmet, working with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. That testing, he said, showed that the RE-AKT helmet could reduce "brain stress" from these so-called "rotational impacts," or the sudden spinning of a player's head after an on-ice collision, by 17 per cent.

While Bauer often prefaces its claims by stating that no hockey helmet could ever prevent all concussions, the company highlighted its research and said its RE-AKT helmet would have a "positive difference" on the rate of injuries caused by these "rotational impacts" as it launched the product around the National Hockey League all-star game two years ago.

"If you get hit, it's like a Sidney Crosby, you know when he got impacted and his head kind of spun around," Mr. Jones said of this kind of rotational impact.

"We won't say much about it, because we want to respect the bureau's opinion."

Mr. Jones said the bureau was concerned about Bauer's testing results and marketing because there is no "established injury threshold for concussions." He also said there was no industry standard in the hockey helmet business for testing for the effects of rotational impacts. But he said the Canadian Standards Association, which tests and certifies hockey helmets, is working on new standards.

Bauer and its competitors have been eager to market new helmets to address the heightened concern about concussions. In 2012, Bauer competitor Reebok-CCM Hockey Inc. targeted Bauer's new RE-AKT helmet by name in a press release, saying that "stray comments from the company's CEO and misinterpretation by some news outlets have created a misimpression that Bauer's RE-AKT helmet is the only helmet that reduces rotational acceleration."

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Reebok-CCM said at the time that a "peer-reviewed and scientifically published test protocol" had shown that one of its helmets was better than the RE-AKT helmet at reducing this kind of impact.

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