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A recent skirmish between manufacturers Easton and Bauer shows that feisty battles in hockey can take place not only on the ice, but also in the offices of major brands.
Easton last month debuted an $800 skate called the Mako, named after what is considered the world’s fastest shark. The company, which is most known in hockey for its one-piece composite sticks, views the Mako as a major foray into the marketplace for skates, a field dominated by Bauer.
The Mako skate, worn by Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks, is seen by Easton as a game-changer and by rival Bauer as a pretender.
Photos by:EASTON-BELL SPORTS (2)
Easton executives believe the Mako could boost its share to 10 percent to 15 percent.
“We wanted to out-Bauer Bauer and change the game,” said Duke Stump, senior vice president of culture, creative and brand innovation for Easton Hockey. “Skate brands have been doing the same thing over and over again. We’ve created a new paradigm around how a skate should be built and how it should perform.”
But Bauer takes exception to Easton’s claim that Mako is a game-changer.
“The only thing new is that Easton is certainly charging more,” said Kevin Davis, president and CEO of Bauer Performance Sports, the parent company of Bauer Hockey. “It may be revolutionary for Easton, but it certainly isn’t a revolutionary concept for consumers.”
This corporate equivalent of hockey’s corner scrum is over what’s new and what isn’t. In October 2011, Easton purchased MLX Technology, a skate company owned by Dave Cruikshank, a four-time U.S. Olympic speedskater and a skating coach for NHL players. Cruikshank was named chief of speed for Easton and worked with the company’s technicians on developing the Mako, which they would later promote as “the world’s fastest hockey skate.”
At $800, the Mako is the most expensive skate Easton has ever produced, but the price tag is in line with the most expensive skates on the market. Professionally, the Mako is being worn and endorsed by Vancouver center Derek Roy and Ottawa defenseman Sergei Gonchar, among other NHL players. It is being marketed to elite hockey players of all ages along with weekend warriors who have the disposable income to purchase top-of-the-line skates.
According to Cruikshank, one of his priorities was to improve the skater’s tempo through changes to the back of the skate and its tendon guard, which he said did not optimize leg extension in its traditional form. For the Mako, Easton created the now-trademarked Extendon guard for what it touts as more natural movement.
“We invested more than $4 million in the skate division at Easton over the last two years,” Cruikshank said. “We put our money where our mouth is to make the best-performing skate in the world.”
Instead of releasing the usual corporate PR-speak that it welcomes the competition, Bauer chose to be aggressive and discredit Easton’s claims of innovation.
“What these guys are suggesting that their new skate does: that’s technology we’ve had on the market for over seven years,” said Bauer’s Davis. “It’s great that, finally, another skate company has decided to pay attention to what we call ‘dynamic range of motion,’ particularly by changing the design of the tendon guard, but our first product with this technology came out in 2006. The fact that these guys have decided to follow our lead is fine, but we have patents on the flexible tendon guard.”
Asked if he will look more closely at Easton’s Mako skate and determine if Bauer has any legal claim, Davis said, “We have a history of vigorously defending our intellectual property. We also invest over $14 million a year in research, design and development, so us being dominant in the skate category is no accident. I have no expectation that we will not do anything different other than continue to vigorously defend our intellectual property.”
Davis added that more than 70 percent of NHL players wear Bauer skates. Its newest product, the Vapor APX2, launched two weeks ago and is worn and endorsed by Washington star Alex Ovechkin, among others.
At press time, a spokesman for Bauer said, “We don’t comment on specific cases,” when asked if Bauer would file a legal claim against Easton.
In response to Bauer’s comments, Matt Arndt, Easton’s executive vice president and general manager for hockey, said, “We’re about a lot more than just one feature in a skate, but our tendon guard system is undoubtedly unique. There is plenty of admirable competition out there in the market. We’re proud of our concepts for the Mako.”
Cruikshank declined to get into a war of words with Bauer.
“Since my days as a speedskater, my whole world has been about competition,” Cruikshank said. “Competition in the marketplace is good. I know Bauer and I respect their products. The Mako doesn’t have to be the biggest-selling skate in the world. We just want hockey players at every level to see that it’s the best.”