FieldTurf USA turned failure into opportunity when dozens of its artificial turf fields quickly fell apart at the region’s public schools in recent years.
Though customers paid $450,000 to $800,000 per field for “the best” and “the next generation of engineering excellence,” certain FieldTurf fields frayed, faded and shed after only a few football seasons, years before the eight-year warranty ran out.
The field failures – caused by a defect in the turf grass blades in the company’s popular Duraspine field – raised safety concerns for some schools and spurred districts to seek free warranty replacements from the Canadian turf manufacturer.
FieldTurf’s response came with fewer apologies than “offers” and “opportunities” for schools to upgrade their turf field to the latest and greatest for another $25,000 to $300,000, records show.
Some school districts took that offer to avoid getting more defective turf and to finally get a quality product. Schools like Carlsbad High, Fallbrook High, Valley Center High and Mesa College all paid FieldTurf a second time to replace defective fields that were still under warranty.
No one held the turf company line and wrung more money from local customers than regional FieldTurf salesman Tim Coury.
Coury also employed legally questionable methods to get new fields built, public records obtained by Voice of San Diego show.
The worst example was found in emails produced by Oceanside Unified.
Coury emailed a teacher he knew at El Camino High School in Oceanside, Scott Wing, on Dec. 3, 2009, to try to get a new field contract, and he offered something extra.
Wing declined Coury’s offer a couple hours later, responding, “Just left you a voicemail. No way on the money. Just trying to make sure the best people get the job – I’m sure that’s you.”
Oceanside Unified ultimately ended up going with another turf company for its fields, and officials said they were unaware of Coury’s offer to Wing.
Coury did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
“FieldTurf is dedicated to the highest level of ethical business practices and we hold our employees – and our external contractors and independent contractors, such as Mr. Coury – accountable when it comes to meeting these standards,” the company said in a statement. “We are still looking into this allegation. We will investigate this matter as efficiently as possible.”
When FieldTurf confirmed the fields at Granite Hills High in El Cajon and Mount Miguel High in Spring Valley needed warranty replacements for premature deterioration, Coury pushed an upgrade in an April 2013 email.
Grossmont Union High School District declined and took the free fields only.
At San Diego State University, athletic department emails show Coury tried to make a free warranty field replacement contingent on the purchase of a new field for a different area of campus. Coury called it a “2 for 1 offer” and “a fantastic opportunity.”
At first, FieldTurf wanted the job of converting a parking lot on campus to a recreational sports field. When the Associated Students of SDSU chose another turf company, FieldTurf set its sights on a natural grass field at the center of the campus. Coury asked Tim Baron, then-assistant athletic director of facilities, for another meeting to discuss his offer.
Baron wrote Coury Jan. 20, “Any creative ideas as I know that you are looking for some new business in order to provide this replacement field?”
Coury emailed Jim Sterk, SDSU’s director of intercollegiate athletics, Feb. 3 with “great news” about a warranty replacement for one of the practice football fields. “I have the ok to replace/upgrade field 610 asap with our latest technology!!”
Baron wrote Sterk shortly thereafter reiterating that Coury “will only be willing to do this if he can turf the (grass) ENS 700 field in the middle of campus.”
The upper football practice field was recently replaced for free by FieldTurf. The university only paid $32,000 for cooler infill cushioning. The field at the middle of campus remains natural grass for now. Multiple inquiries yielded no further clarity from San Diego State about the project or offer.
FieldTurf sued its grass supplier in March 2011, blaming it for the defect that caused field failures across the country. FieldTurf demanded money from TenCate to help pay for field replacements sought by customers.
Three years later, in May 2014, the parties settled for an undisclosed sum. Public records show FieldTurf continued to push districts to pay for an upgraded field when their fields failed in the years that followed.
FieldTurf officials say they didn’t notify all 3,000 Duraspine customers about the defect and settlement because not every field has posed problems. They estimate just 250 Duraspine fields had problems resulting from the defect, or about 8 percent.
That number only includes schools that obtained field replacements under the warranty.
It does not include Duraspine fields still in place today at schools like Madison High, Muirlands Middle School and Scripps Ranch High in San Diego, that have seen better days.
Next in the series: San Diego Unified had at least six Fieldturf fields fall apart before the warranty was up, and two were replaced with the same defective product. Still, district officials have such confidence in the company, no other turf manufacturer has been allowed to compete for jobs within the district.