The Morning Report
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When FieldTurf USA’s fake grass sports fields quickly fell apart across the region, customers, often local schools, were regularly forced to pay thousands of dollars to “upgrade” to a supposedly sturdier turf material.
Turns out, that newer premium turf is falling apart far sooner than expected, too.
As Voice of San Diego reported in a multi-part investigation in November, customers that spent $400,000 to $900,000 for “the best” turf shelled out another $25,000 to $300,000 just a few years later to replace faulty fields still under warranty with a new turf material that would finally deliver the minimum eight-year longevity and investment promised.
Some of those premium products are already failing.
Torrey Pines High School, for instance, paid more than $433,000 for a new premium turf field – known as FieldTurf Revolution – in 2012. Last fall, FieldTurf inspectors noticed, “The turf fibers were wearing faster than expected,” said Eric Dill, superintendent of the San Dieguito Union High School District, in an email.
Though Dill said the problem “was primarily an aesthetic issue since the infill and base layer were fine,” FieldTurf agreed to replace the school’s nearly 77,350 square foot artificial grass football field in December for free, logos and all, public records show.
Torrey Pines High athletic director Charlenne Falcis-Stevens said via email, “We began 2017 with a brand new turf and it has been awesome!”
This time around, the school got the company’s older turf line known as FieldTurf Classic HD, the product that helped propel the company to international prominence.
In a statement, FieldTurf officials said the problems seen at Torrey Pines High don’t exist at all Revolution fields, but the school isn’t alone.
“This field is being replaced because of a manufacturing issue that impacts a small number of fields and is unrelated to the type of fiber that is used,” the March 30 statement said. “In most cases, we can repair any such problems. However, in the few instances where a replacement is needed, we will do so under the warranty conditions and at no cost to the customer.”
FieldTurf officials declined to say how many fields were affected by the manufacturing problem.
Whether FieldTurf’s Revolution turf will ultimately cause the same number of headaches as the company’s Duraspine line remains to be seen.
Duraspine turf was installed at fields all over the country beginning in 2006, many at public schools and colleges that paid for the fields with taxpayer money. Last year, FieldTurf officials confirmed at least 250 Duraspine fields were defective, including dozens in high-UV areas like San Diego.
FieldTurf sued a supplier in March 2011 blaming them for a defect that caused grass blades to shed and fray, leaving fields with bald spots years before the warranty ran out. FieldTurf left customers in the dark and continued selling Duraspine turf after officials were aware of the problems, public records show. The parties settled mid-trial in May 2014 for an undisclosed amount.
FieldTurf charged schools that received defective turf upgrade fees for supposedly better turf even though the fields were still under warranty — a practice that continues this year.
Arkansas City High School will pay $125,000 to get its frayed Duraspine turf field replaced under warranty in May with Revolution turf.
“The Duraspine product did not hold up to the test,” said Ron E. Ballard, superintendent of Arkansas City Public Schools, in an interview. Ballard said he was happy with the offer, and hopes the new field performs better than the first one.
FieldTurf sales tactics locally have also been questionable. In addition to pushing districts to pay to upgrade defective fields, a sales representative once offered a public-school teacher money to help “close the deal” on a new turf field in Oceanside. Records show he also tried to require San Diego State University to purchase a new turf field in order to get another field replaced for free under warranty.
FieldTurf executives said they would investigate the Oceanside offer, brought to their attention by Voice of San Diego last year. The salesman remains employed by the company while the review is underway.
“We have engaged outside counsel to oversee a thorough investigation, and the investigation is nearing completion,” FieldTurf officials said in a statement.
Revelations of FieldTurf’s actions have spurred some customers to sue the company for fraud. Several cases across the country, including a couple class action lawsuits, are still active. Some public-school customers have settled defect lawsuits with FieldTurf to varying degrees of success, with some schools agreeing to pay a discounted amount for better turf while others got a better field free of charge.
Lawmakers in New Jersey recently called on the Federal Trade Commission to open a false advertising investigation, and the attorneys general from New Jersey and New York are reportedly examining the problems, according to news reports by NJ Advance Media.
FieldTurf officials have said they are cooperating, and claim they were informed by the Federal Trade Commission it would not investigate.
Though Torrey Pines High School’s Revolution field wasn’t a warranty replacement job in 2012, a Duraspine field at La Costa Canyon High was replaced under warranty with Revolution turf in 2015 for a “discounted” rate of nearly $302,000, district records show.
Nonetheless, the San Dieguito Union High School District school board made FieldTurf the district standard turf in April 2015. Other local districts have made similar declarations to justify buying FieldTurf without going through a competitive bidding process. Dill said that was not his district’s intention.
“Whoever the prevailing bidder is will be the successful bidder… The intent was never sole source,” Dill said, using a term for awarding contracts without a bidding process.
Dill said he doesn’t expect any other district fields to get replaced this year, but, “Knowing that we have had two other issues, I would expect our maintenance staff to be monitoring the wear on those fields.”
A new FieldTurf Revolution field was also installed at Canyon Crest Academy in 2013 for $657,000. A new Revolution field also went in at San Dieguito Academy in 2014 for nearly $615,000, district records show.
No San Diego County school districts have sued the company.
FieldTurf officials addressed the ongoing litigation elsewhere, saying in a statement:
“FieldTurf stands behind its products and customers, and we are fully confident that when considered in full, the facts will show that customers were well-served by FieldTurf. Notably, many of the cases against us have involved Duraspine fields that have surpassed their warranty period, and are still in use. In one case pending in California, a federal judge recently dismissed a fraud claim against FieldTurf on summary judgment, finding that FieldTurf’s statements and marketing materials did not constitute fraud as a matter of law. Going forward we will continue to take care of customers while fully defending ourselves against any attempts to take advantage of our company or to misrepresent the facts.”