The 100-Yard Deception
By CHRISTOPHER BAXTER AND MATTHEW STANMYRE
Late in 2006, the CEO and co-founder of FieldTurf – the leading maker of artificial sports fields – urgently emailed a supplier about a new turf being marketed and sold to the public as the best money could buy.
The issue was so pressing, some of the messages went out on New Year’s Eve.
The subject was so troubling, it could cripple both companies.
And the problem was so basic, anyone could understand it: Fields were falling apart before they should.
Ten months later, FieldTurf executives flew to New Jersey to check out the product, known as Duraspine, in one of their most lucrative markets. They discovered more trouble. The turf was breaking apart and lying flat, undermining their own breathless marketing materials that heralded its revolutionary durability.
The stakes couldn’t have been higher. Sales to schools and towns across the country were skyrocketing, and the company was turning big profits off taxpayers. A problem this significant, if people knew, could cost tens of millions in warranty claims and ruin its prized reputation for quality.
So FieldTurf powered on, full steam ahead, keeping customers in the dark even as the Great Recession was forcing communities to cut school programs and lay off teachers and police officers.
All told, from 2005 until Duraspine was discontinued in 2012, records show FieldTurf sold 1,428 of the fields throughout the U.S. — including 164 in New Jersey — for an estimated $570 million in revenue.
Most were paid for with tax dollars. Many were defective, as company officials have acknowledged; others simply failed to live up to marketing and advertising claims. And to this day, few people know their neighborhood field, the supposed gold standard of artificial turf, might have been built on a lie.
An NJ Advance Media investigation of FieldTurf and its executives reveals:
• They knew. For most of the time they sold the fields, at $300,000 to $500,000 each, executives were aware the turf was deteriorating faster than expected and might not last a decade or more as promised.
• They misled. Despite candid, internal email discussions about their overblown sales pitches, executives never changed their marketing campaign for Duraspine fields.
• They tried to cover up. A lawyer warned that some of those internal emails could be damaging in a lawsuit, and an executive sought to delete them. An IT consultant refused, calling it a “possible crime.”
• They kept quiet. From the time fields began to fail in 2006 until today, executives have never told most customers about Duraspine’s problems or how to identify signs it was prematurely falling apart.
• They stonewalled. Some customers who did report problems said FieldTurf officials slow-footed warranty claims and told them the deterioration was normal, or that their fields needed more maintenance.
When the pieces of the investigation are assembled, a disturbing picture emerges of a company whose fields have become ubiquitous across the country.