Published on June 11th, 2014
Getting a (Patented) Grip On Cleats
If you’ve ever watched an MLB baseball pitcher scrape mud out of his cleats with a tongue depressor-like stick on a rainy day, you probably didn’t give it much thought. Cleats + Wet Ground = Mud-Caked Cleats. Unavoidable, right? Well, not anymore.
Four years ago, when the two teenage daughters of St. Luke’s ophthalmologist Rob Kitei were watching soccer players slipping and sliding and struggling to keep their balance wearing mud-caked cleats, the Kitei sisters figured there must be some product out there to prevent this problem. Rhea and Arielle Kitei researched it thoroughly… and… discovered there wasn’t. So the Kitei girls decided they would invent a product that would inhibit mud buildup on cleats for soccer, rugby, baseball, football, lacrosse, field hockey, and more.
And it wouldn’t be the first time the Kitei family had invented something. “I have a patent on a chemical formulation that prevents nail polish bottle lids from sticking shut,” Dr. Kitei says, “so your wife doesn’t have to say, ‘Honey, can you open this for me?’”
Off & Running
Pretty soon after that soccer match, Dr. Kitei, his daughters, and his wife were brainstorming ideas on what kind of product would prevent mud buildup on cleats. After some trial and error, the Kitei family ‘Think Tank’ decided they would create something that would cause the cleat’s surface to be mud-resistant. The next step was to find a polymer chemist to develop the formula.
“Creating a universal formula for all cleats and spikes proved to be our first challenge,” Dr. Kitei says. “Cleats are made of different rubbers, and plastics, and metals, so one chemical won’t be perfect for every cleat, there has to be some compromise.”
With the chemist’s assistance, the next 6 months were spent field testing different concoctions on different cleats—actually tramping around the Kitei family’s own muddy backyard on rainy days — until the right formula emerged.
To make sure their product would not harm athletes, Dr. Kitei enlisted Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences Center for Sports Surface Research. “They got a bunch of different kinds of cleats and used our formulation to coat the cleats, and also utilized a control or ‘placebo’ cleat,” Dr. Kitei explains. “After nearly 9 months of testing, they found our chemical was harmless, it didn’t result in too much traction, or not enough, and most importantly, they were able to prove how much less mud would stick to a cleat treated with our formula.”
The Kitei girls’ formula, which they called SUPERCLEAT, enabled an average of 40% less mud build-up on sports cleats. And as an added bonus, even when there’s no mud, and just moisture, as on artificial turf, Penn State found that SUPERCLEAT repels water so effectively that it significantly decreases lateral movement slipping.
“Even on wet grass, it improves your traction because of the chemical properties of the material, so it’s a win-win whether you’re playing on turf or mud, you still get a big improvement,” Dr. Kitei says.
With the credibility of Penn State’s data backing up their formula, and some neat packaging, SUPERCLEAT production began in October 2011 and sales took off immediately at a handful of ‘mom and pop’ sporting goods stores and via their website where they were selling thousands of bottles.
“We wanted to get SUPERCLEAT out there to help as many athletes as we could,” Dr. Kitei says, “but it’s harder to get a new product into the major national retail stores than it is to get into medical school.”
Making It To The Big Leagues
Enter sports product giant and global player Mission Athletecare. By September 2012 a deal was reached, and the Kitei family’s SUPERCLEAT was transformed into a national product. “Mission re-designed SUPERCLEAT’s packaging into an entirely different animal with a really great ergonomic applicator,” Dr. Kitei says. The formula was also renamed Cleat Grip, ironically one of the names Dr. Kitei said his family suggested before going with their original SUPERCLEAT name.
Although Cleat Grip was “soft launched” and has been on some sporting goods store shelves since March, Mission Athletecare will launch Cleat Grip nationally over the summer of 2014.
Professional athletes including football player Reggie Bush of the Detroit Lions and retired professional soccer great Mia Hamm have endorsed the product and will be a part of the launch.
There’s also some talk about inventors Rhea and Arielle Kitei being used in some capacity for Cleat Grip promotion.
“For my daughters, this product launch is fantastic,” Dr. Kitei says. “It’s a great feeling to come up with something and see it on shelves and have national distribution. And Mission Athletecare are such great teammates, we are ‘over the moon’ with our relationship.”
Feature Image: The Kitei family (from left: Gigi, Rhea, Arielle, and Rob) pose with SUPERCLEAT, now known as Cleat Grip.