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Prince branches out to other sports

March 31, 2009 07:14 PM

In Steve Davis’ 21 years with Prince Sports in four different roles, he has effectively implemented numerous ideas and has many patents to his name. His latest idea, however, may be the most intriguing. After a hugely successful launch of tennis racquets with the groundbreaking 03 tennis technology in 2005, the engineer/racquet designer began to apply the technology to hockey sticks, and that phase of Prince’s business has exploded and is now being incorporated in other applications.
 
The story begins in 1998, when Davis was in charge of R&D and seeking a way to eliminate drilled holes in racquets. The result was the “MORE” Technology, with no drilled holes and a stronger racquet. MORE, the precursor to 03, was launched in 2002 and did not achieve the market success worthy of the effort.
 
In 1999, Davis moved to Italy when Benetton owned Prince. A new R&D team was hired there, and Davis challenged them to take the MORE technology to the next level. What the new R&D team came up with was phenomenal to Davis.
 
“I have a Masters degree in engineering and a couple decades of racquet experience, but when the R&D team showed me the first image in 2002, I was shocked at what I saw and didn’t believe it would work but encouraged them to continue,” said Davis. “This is a remarkable technology and has exceeded all expectations.”
 
With O3, large ports are molded into the racket frame without drilling any holes or cutting any fibers. These ports provide the unprecedented combination of a larger sweet spot in a faster frame, which allows the racquet to be swung faster.  Previously, racquet designs would have to compromise one to get the other.
 
Prince was a brand in trouble when the 03 rackets came out, but it became a market leader overnight and ended the long dry spell for the Bordentown company, best known for introducing the first oversized and longbody racquets. To punctuate the success of 03, the tracking of racquet returns proved they were two times more durable.
 
“All the credit goes to the Italian R&D team, the best in the business. I just got the wheels in motion,” said Davis, who returned from Italy in 2002. “O3 is a unique structure with large holes, very sleek and fragile looking, yet the racket is powerful, stiff, and strong.”
 
 “I started to wonder if we could use that for anything else and thought about applying O3 to a hockey stick. It was just a side project with a minimal amount of resources, but we put together a prototype to present to a hockey company.”
 
Prince made the hockey presentation to Reebok at its Canadian headquarters. It was so impressed with the potential of O Tech (the name given to the technology) that they signed a license agreement immediately. The O Stick hit store shelves in March of 2007 and made a splash in the NHL. “Until you get a reaction from someone else, you don’t know what kind of reception you’re going to get,” said Davis.
 
The first professional hockey player to use the new Reebok stick was Detroit Red Wings’ center, Pavel Datsyuk, whose points per game doubled with the new, faster stick. Two teammates also used it, along with 26 other NHL players, and the Red Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup last season.
 
Seeing the potential, Prince’s CEO, George Napier, asked Davis if they could do anything else. With that challenge on the table, Davis became Vice President of a new division, Technology Transfer, and has applied O Tech to field hockey and lacrosse sticks, and now baseball bats.

Lacrosse was launched with Reebok and field hockey with Grays. The bats are also with Reebok and already have some collegiate team endorsements. Lacrosse and baseball items are just showing up on store shelves. The field hockey is following ice hockey’s popularity, with an Olympic South African women’s teham already using them. There is a tremendous amount of interest in O products, and many specialty retailers already carry them. They can also be ordered online.
 
Davis’ one-man Technology Transfer Department now has resources. He begins with the idea and navigates between an R&D team, a legal team, licensees, and a dedicated factory in China. This marks the first time in history that a tennis company has exported a technology to other sports.
 
Stay tuned for an announcement of three new products in 2009. Still making inroads, Prince's new products will be totally unrelated to anything they have done before. This continues to excite Davis.
 
“Even to this day, I marvel at how well it works.”

 

(reprint from 1/04/09 Trenton Times)

 

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