When Touchdown Sports started using a third name to do business this year, Kelly Langley decided she’d had enough.
Sickened by the company’s sales tactics, she quit her job with the sports marketing company.
“What’s been going on is not right,” Langley said. “I just couldn’t live with it anymore.”
She said when weekly sales quotas were met, employees would toss back margaritas on Fridays.
“When things were going good it was really fun atmosphere — I’m not going to lie — but when it was bad, it was really bad,” Langley said.
Scams by Touchdown Sports, a Fort Worth-based company, were first exposed by the Star-Telegram in April, with follow-up stories in May and October. The company sells T-shirts, banners and other spirit-themed items to companies with a loosely-veiled promise that they will be distributed by local school districts.
But school districts across the nation that have been targeted by the company say they have no relationship with Touchdown Sports, which has also gone by Boost Sports and now, Sports Media Advertising.
One possible reason for the name change — besides the negative publicity — may have to do with disputed credit card charges from customers.
“They were constantly changing credit card processing companies because of all of the disputed credit card charges from customers,” Langley said.
At it offices in Riverbend Business Park along East Loop 820 in east Fort Worth, there is no sign on the door that once said Boost Sports, but former employees say the company is still operating from that location.
Emails and voicemails left with the company have not been returned.
In a filing with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, a permit was issued for Sports Media Advertising in Watauga on Oct. 1 with Janice Carrillo listed on the filing. Langley and other former employees say Carrillo is the girlfriend of company owner, Joseph Elkhatib.
‘It was really bad’
While their locations have bounced from one spot to another, the company is easy to find online. A quick search on Google for “Touchdown Sports scams” gets more than 316,000 hits.
While some Texas school districts have been impacted, the efforts to find unwitting customers has gone nationwide, stretching from Montana to New York. In North Texas, the Allen school district, SMU and its partner, Learfield Sports, have all sent cease-and-desist letters to Touchdown Sports.
Complaints have done little to slow the sales, former employees say.
For the first few months, Langley, who wasn’t a sales person, didn’t realize what was going on. But as she dealt with customer service emails where customers left messages saying things like “how can you live with yourself?” Langley slowly realized what was going on.
“I mean a lot of the people who work there are really nice but when they got on the phone it’s not nice,” Langley said.
According to one former salesman, who asked that his name not be used, there were sales goals of $10,000 a day and $50,000 a week for the office. The best salesperson could make $2,500 a week, mostly off commission.
“Whenever we’re calling to pitch them, they’ll say that they’re sending the school 500 T-shirts and a banner,” the former salesman said. “They would actually send the banner and only about 20 of the T-shirts, knowing the school would send them right back.”
The former salesmen said the fine print of the invoice would say the shirts and memorabilia were donations and that there was actually no guarantee how the school district would display them.
After getting a verbal agreement over the phone and charging the credit card, a customer would get an invoice saying “distribution of the items is the sole responsibility of the school.” Most customers didn’t notice the fine print until they learned their memorabilia wasn’t being distributed by their local school.
“That is the big loophole,” said one former salesman said. “It’s key.”
‘Know what they’re doing’
While there have been warnings posted by attorney general offices in some states and some police have looked into criminal charges, no one is aware of anything actually being filed against the company.
Langley described the company as a place where employees were encouraged not to answer phone calls from upset customers.
“Someone would say ‘bomb’ and we would know not to answer that number,” Langley said.
That is the experience of former customers who call to complain and suddenly can’t reach anyone.
“They know what they’re doing,” said Jonida Ladji, an Old Bridge, New Jersey insurance agent who realized she had been scammed in October. “They know when to stop taking a customers calls.”
The Better Business Bureau gave the company an F rating. There are 28 complaints listed.
Last year, the company responded to the Better Business Bureau, saying it provided “sponsorship opportunities through advertisements on local high school spirit items. We are in contact with someone (usually a cheer coach) at the high schools and we discuss with them the items they would like to receive (shirts, banners, cups, or balls). They let us know the items they will like to receive, then we work to get the sponsors on the items, to provide them to the school.”
When the Better Business Bureau’s asked for verification of agreements with public schools, Touchdown Sports declined, saying they were private information.
Even cease-and-desist letters from school districts don’t stop the company from going back if they’ve had success in that town previously.
“He’ll leave them alone for two or three months, then he’ll have us start calling again,” one former salesman said. “If he has made money there, he’ll go back.”