SEVERNA PARK, Md. (WMAR) - An Anne Arundel uniform company is racking up complaints from across the country. They're coming from customers who say their dealings with Severna Park's Sports55 have been a losing game.
Kevin Thomas has a full time job, but he can't exactly call softball a hobby. Thomas plays on several teams on the Eastern Shore, with games as many as five days a week. And we're talking about serious play. The teams he's on invest thousands in tournaments, equipment and uniforms. Thomas says, "Matching uniforms you feel better. You play better. You look better."
When one of Thomas' teams needed new duds for the season, as coach he set out to get them. He chose a Severna Park company where one of his players works, saying, "We were hoping we were going to be in good hands. That has not been the case."
Instead Thomas tells ABC2 Investigators his dealings with Sports55 have been a nightmare. Receipts show he paid the company $1,700 upfront for full uniforms back in April. Emails from a company representative show they were told the job would take 4-6 weeks.
But Thomas says it took until July to get the jerseys and hats. And even then he says the shirts were not the color they asked for and some of their hats were missing. In addition, the team still hasn't received its pants, 14 weeks after making the order.
Thomas was fed up so he filed complaints with the Maryland Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland, adding to the stack both already have. The Attorney General's office says 41 complaints have been filed against Sports55 since 2011. 12 of those complaints are from 2013.
Karen Straughn, Assistant Attorney General, tells ABC2 Investigators, "We're seeing a wide range of different things unfortunately, but we are seeing a problem." Straughn says her agency has seen a problem pattern that includes complaints from across the country.
Some of the customers within those complaints claim they paid and never got anything. Others say their orders were just flat out wrong. Many claim they can't get refunds because of Sports55's no refund policy, which is clearly stated. Straughn says, "We are able to get a resolution in some cases but we are having a problem getting resolution in quite a few of the cases."
And the cases run the gamut. ABC2 News Investigators were allowed to look at 35 of the complaints filed with the Attorney General's office. Within those closed complaints you'll find stories from little league baseball teams, girls fast-pitch softball teams and correctional officers playing league softball.
Of the 35 complaints we viewed, six customers received the refunds they were seeking. But those records show 12 customers who filed with the AG have not gotten the money they asked for back.
Angie Barnett with the BBB says she has heard similar stories, telling ABC2, "The problem is and the bottom line is they don't deliver what was promised."
The BBB has seen a similar pattern with Sports55 according to Barnett. The company is not an accredited member of the organization. The BBB has received 130 complaints against the company in the last three years. 77 of those complaints were received this year, which Barnett indicates is a 50% jump from the previous year. Many of the complaints filed with the BBB are repeats of those filed with the Attorney General but Barnett says, "At some point you have to take responsibility and that's what we haven't seen change and as a result the business does have an F-rating with the BBB, a pattern of complaint, a significant volume of complaint."
Matthew Still's complaint is among those filed with the BBB. He says he filed with the organization as well as the Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission after feeling frustrated with the company.
Still, a competitive softball player in Georgia, went so far as to start a Facebook page about Sports55 after he says the company got his order wrong and then gave him the runaround on other items he ordered.
Still has been threatened with a lawsuit but refuses to take down the Facebook page. He says the goal is to warn other people about his experience and let them share theirs, "I'm astonished. It's almost word for word what I'm hearing from these other people, what I've gone through myself. It's just ridiculous."
We wanted to talk to the owners of Sports55 so we stopped by their shop on Ritchie Highway in Severna Park. A spokesman for the company, John Eberl, wasn't there and told us later he didn't want to talk on-camera.
We originally asked the company for a comment by email. Eberl told us many of the complaints were made by people who didn't place the team's order. The Attorney General says interested parties can
make complaints even if they are not the direct party who made payment to the company. Eberl told us the complaints against Sports55 are a tiny fraction of the thousands of orders the company handles each year.
In an e-mail to ABC2 News Investigators Eberl wrote, "You have no idea how the custom uniform business works, and i have no interest in explaining anything further....run your story but I hope your 100% accurate."
Eberl later sent an official statement saying sometimes because of their workload, orders fall out of the estimated window, telling us Sports55 works to satisfy their customers and address complaints.
Kevin Thomas says he's struck out on getting further with his complaint. And with his team's season almost over, he says resolution will likely come after the final out.
We asked Sports55 repeatedly for a list of satisfied customers we could contact. Through email Eberl offered to provide a list, but it never came. We were told the Baltimore Blast had been customers. ABC2 Investigators contacted the team. Spokesman Steve Fertig tells us the Blast worked with Sports55 through several seasons and had great experiences.
ABC2 is unsure of current ownership with Sports55. The owner listed with the Attorney General's office and Better Business Bureau had his state business charter forfeited in 2012. There is no current business charter listed in the state database that uses Sports55 or any variation of the name. Eberl would not provide the owner's name.
Sports55 issued this official statement from its unnamed management: "Sports55 has been a manufacture and reseller of custom uniforms since 2004. We realize this report only focuses on a small percentage of our unhappy customers, but the facts are that we have 10's of thousands of happy customers some of whom are in their 4th or 5th season purchasing uniforms from Sports55. Our sports55art.com site shows almost 10,000 customer mock ups. We produce about 100,000 custom garments per season and when a customer places a custom order we try our best to give them an estimated delivery window based on current production lead times, and explain to them up front that there are no cancellations on custom orders once production begins. The products we produce are custom to colors, logos, names, numbers and sizing and once produced can not be restocked or resold. They are unique to that team and can be enjoyed for many many seasons.
On occasion an order can fall outside the estimated delivery window and when it does we work as hard as we can to try and satisfy our customers. We have not had a chance to review all claims in this story however we will thoroughly investigate any allegations made and additionally will protect and defend those claims if invalid either completely or partially to what legal rights we have.
We do get about 80% of our business in a 3 month window so a small percentage of our orders fall outside the estimated delivery window. Each and every year we develop new relationships with vendors, suppliers, and local sub contractors, to try and deliver for our customers as quickly and accuratley as possible. It should be noted that 75% of our yearly customers are repeat business and that we have a network of dozens of dealers and outside sales representatives whom promote the Sports55 brand across the country.
We take any and all complaints very seriously and we work very closely with both the Maryland BBB and the attorney generals office to distinguish which claims are from valid customers and address them immediately. Unfortunately some claims are not valid and we choose not to answer those."