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Easton Sports merges with Riddell Bell

Published: Thursday, Feb. 9 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

LOS ANGELES — Peyton Manning already straps them on, Lance Armstrong suits up with their gear and their baseball gloves fit the hand of many a major leaguer: Even before it officially exists, Easton-Bell Sports is a monster of the sports world.

On Tuesday, baseball and hockey products expert Easton Sports Inc. announced a mega-merger with Riddell Bell Holdings, which makes helmets for the National Football League. The combined entity, chaired by Easton head Jim Easton, boasts annual revenues of more than $600 million and covers sports from archery to motocross.

"This company is now the number one baseball company, the number one football company, the number one in bike helmets, number one in snow helmets and the number one hockey innovation company," said Tony Palma, who's presently chief executive officer of Easton Sports and will take a new executive role in the combined company. "Yeah, there's a lot of number ones here. We like that."

Terms of the deal, aided by Santa Monica-based Fenway Partners and set to close by the end of the first quarter, were not announced. Together, the company will employ more than 2,500 workers, maintaining headquarters in both Van Nuys and Chicago. Palma said he expects few overlaps between the different divisions, minimizing any need for staff reduction.

Easton, whose roots date back to 1922 in Watsonville, specializes in aluminum bats, baseball gloves, bikes, hockey and camping equipment. In the 1940s it became a powerhouse in the archery field and continues to make arrow shafts to this day.

Easton Sports is a subsidiary of Jas. D. Easton Inc. Other subsidiary companies of Jas. D. Easton, including Easton Technical Products and bow-maker Hoyt, both based in Utah, will not fold into the combined entity.

Riddell, which manufactures the NFL's official helmets, has an equally rich history, developing removable cleats for football shoes in 1922. Its helmets show up in sports as diverse as Indy car racing to skateboarding, where Tony Hawk endorses its gear. Based in Chicago, it merged with Bell Sports in 2004.

"The combined (research and development) efforts of both businesses will be unsurpassed in the sporting goods industry," said Bill Sherman, president and CEO of Riddell, in a printed statement.

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