XTech shoulder pads quickly become a hit
Six years ago, Teddy Monica drove a cab in Pennsylvania and Bob Broderick was an independent public relations executive for TV and athlete clients. Today, their startup shoulder pad company XTech is disrupting the historically vanilla pad market by making a product that is worn by more than half of all NFL players and is used by hundreds of top colleges and high schools.
How did a down-on-his-luck sports equipment engineer — “It was the darkest period of my life,” Monica, 63, said of his two years picking up fares — and a publicist with no business or engineering background launch a company that now nips at heavyweights like Riddell?
It starts with the shoulder pad business itself. While the NFL and others focused on helmets to address the concussion crisis, shoulder pads were an afterthought.
“Shoulder pads haven’t changed dramatically from when I was wearing them back in the ’60s and ’70s, which is incredible,” said Brian Billick, the former Baltimore Ravens head coach who is an investor in XTech. “It is a market that has kind of been static for such a long time.”
Even the players didn’t think about shoulder pads. Broderick would beg them to chat about their pads, and they usually responded that they didn’t even know what they wore.
But one person constantly thought about them: Monica. A self-taught engineer, he worked for Riddell for 14 years, until 2002. He then had his own pad company, Impact, that failed after seven years, in part because he didn’t have the business skills to match his creative ambitions.
So, in 2010 he started driving a cab, and one night while waiting for a fare around his hometown of East Stroudsburg, Pa., he sketched a design of a shoulder pad with movable pieces and different arches. The idea was to create a lightweight version that adjusted to the player. He emailed a picture to a few of his old equipment manager friends, one of whom is the Atlanta Falcons’ Brian Boigner.
“From that sketch I knew he was onto something,” Boigner said. “Teddy has come in, and he has really made an impact in our locker room.”
Ironically, perhaps the biggest development came from Broderick, now 36. After mutual friends introduced them in 2012, they went into business together. Broderick is now the president and Monica is the chief designer. It was Monica who emphasized the need for their product to have a new type of padding, and Broderick who found the solution.
Existing pads used a cheap, mass-produced foam, ethylene vinyl acetate, that breaks down and struggles to disperse impacts. Broderick went to YouTube and typed in “world’s best foam,” and found a video of a woman wrapping her phone in foam called XRD and dropping it off a five-story building. The phone survived intact.
XRD is made by Rogers Corp., which now has a sports equipment agreement with XTech to only put its foam in Monica’s and Broderick’s pads.
By now it’s a staple of the XTech demonstration: Broderick layers a small swatch of XRD over his hand and slams a football helmet on top of it. His hand is unscathed.
Houston Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus was sold after seeing just such a demo in a business manager’s office this offseason. Mercilus recalled once going numb in a playoff game after tackling with a particular style but not feeling anything with the same technique this season.
“With the XTech pads I go out there to hit somebody the same way, and I don’t feel anything,” he said. “It is just wonderful.”
XTech has about 10,000 pads in circulation and expects that number to reach 100,000 within five years. They retail for just under $500.
While there is no data on Riddell’s market share, XTech still has a long way to go to catch up to Monica’s old employer. “Riddell is by far the industry leader in shoulder pad technology, which correlates to market share leadership across all levels of the game,” Riddell said in a statement.
Monica, who said he designed the Riddell shoulder pad in the 1980s that is the basis for their current models, scoffed.
Sitting in the company warehouse and manufacturing site in suburban New Jersey, Monica peered through his glasses and said, “They haven’t advanced their technology at all. People have let shoulder pads go by the wayside … and a lot of the thought is if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Well, I am here to tell you it’s broke.”
And as it turns out, he was just the man to fix it.