Promo Company Allegedly Tricked Businesses Into Sponsoring High School Football T-shirts (and Pocketed the Money)
Shenendehowa High School athletic director Chris Culnan received two boxes of promotional T-shirts with the instructions to throw them into the crowd at football games and read the names of local businesses who sponsored the shirts.
Culnan, however, had no idea the shirts were coming. He didn’t order them.
When he called the shirt vendor, a company in Texas called Elite Sports Promos, he was told that a cheerleading coach commissioned the order after signing a contract. When he asked Elite Sports Promos office manager James Stevens to see the contract, he refused.
What was even more confusing is that the businesses who donated to sponsor the T-shirt were allegedly led to believe by Elite Sports Promos that their donation would help fund the school’s athletic programs. Instead, Shenendehowa never saw a dime of the donations, some of which were as high as $1,000.
“I thought it was how [the school] funded the sports,” Jay Sitterly, owner of Jay’s Auto, told the Times Union, which first reported the story.
Sitterly purchased two ads at $300 each, as well as a $900 banner.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I thought I was doing the right thing, doing something good for the school.”
Local businesses received emails from an account called Shenendehowa High School Varsity Cheer thanking them for previously sponsoring the football team, and asking them to lock in ads for the upcoming basketball season.
SCAM WARNING: Ten local businesses agreed to hand over more than $7,000 to a company collecting sponsorships for the Shenendehowa football team.
One problem. The Shenendehowa Central School District knew nothing about it. https://t.co/l5RIuXSvXb
— Times Union (@timesunion) September 22, 2021
In reality, the school’s cheerleading program is run by a booster club that works with local businesses for sponsorship. The Times Union reported that none of those businesses that previously worked with the booster club signed up with Elite Sport Promos, meaning the company reached out to businesses previously unaffiliated with the school that were most likely unaware of how they went about securing sponsorship, and it might have all appeared legitimate to the untrained eye.
Shenendehowa sent out an email to local businesses warning them about the scam, and said that the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office has been notified.
“We ask that everyone please be aware that this is a scam,” the email said. “Do not fall prey to these illegal solicitations by giving out any information.”
Stevens, speaking with the Times Union, defended Elite Sports Promos again saying that the “varsity cheer coach” signed a contract and that the T-shirts, which were printed with participating businesses’ names, were legitimate.
“Most cheer coaches are ecstatic bout receiving this stuff,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want a bunch of free stuff to be given out?”
But Shenendehowa’s actual varsity cheerleading coach, Amy Price, maintained that she did not sign any contract with Elite and wouldn’t work with outside agencies for fundraising.
The Times Union reportedly asked Stevens for a copy of the contract (as Culnan had), but Stevens responded that he couldn’t send a copy of it without attorney approval, nor could he show the signature line or disclose the name of the person who signed it.
Stevens added that the issue was “resolved” when Culnan canceled the contract. But, the businesses who bought ads are still out of their money, since Elite did not issue refunds. Stevens did, however, say that companies who want a refund can contact him.
“I’ve been the athletic director for 15 years, and this is the first time I’ve dealt with something like this,” Culnan said. “We’ve got to warn other schools within our league.”
According to its website, Elite Sports Promos has a staff of 30 and works with schools in 48 states. The company sells T-shirts, banners, cups, water bottles and mini sports balls, with examples of previous projects on its site. The company does not appear to be registered with PPAI.