For 27 years, Clarksburg-based American Vending served West Virginia University fans at all athletic events. Consistently winning the lucrative WVU concessions contract was the cornerstone for American Vending and its owner, Martin Shaffer.
Recently, American Vending lost the contract through a bidding process with Sedexho Marriott. Shaffer has since taken issue with the university in its evaluation.
In a press release submitted to the Exponent and Telegram, Shaffer said, "information released by West Virginia University concerning its awarding of a new concessions contract for athletic events was misleading.
"It appears that WVU officials are reading the same playbook they had in 1986 when American Vending had to take them to court to correct an injustice in the evaluation process."
Like in 1986, Shaffer contends the evaluation process pitting his company and Sedexho against each other was slanted against American Vending. WVU counters, saying Sedexho simply offered the better proposal.
American Vending's five-year contract with WVU expired on June 30. The agreement included a three-year renewal clause, but WVU chose to open the contract for a bidding process.
"We had evaluated the situation, and we determined the university's interests were best served if we went with the competitive process," said Tim Bostonia, assistant director for business development at WVU.
Shaffer contends the problems began months before that decision, when WVU hired a consultant group from Denver -- the Bonham Group -- to review concessions operations. According to Shaffer, WVU assistant athletic director for finance and administration, Russ Sharpe, provided the Bonham Group with "false information," leading to an unfavorable evaluation from Bonham.
Shaffer also was upset that his company was not made aware it was under review.
The reason for that is simple, WVU maintains. Bonham was hired exclusively to evaluate the soft drink rights portion of the concessions operation, not to review American Vending.
"No. 1, we wanted to be careful about what might be in the (pouring) contract that might overlap with the concessions contract and they (Bonham) had experience with that," Sharpe said.
Sharpe also denied giving Bonham false information. Regardless, Sharpe said Bonham's findings did not factor into Sedexho winning the concessions contract.
"The Bonham report has nothing to do with American Vending, and it has nothing to do with the university's decision to bid the concessions contract, " Sharpe said.
Concerning the evaluation process, Shaffer took issue with the makeup of the committee and some of its findings. Shaffer described evaluation committee members C.G. Mancini, Earl Ebert and Sharpre as "three accountants getting together for a meeting."
Mancini is WVU's assistant dean for business and economics and Ebert serves as senior financial analyst of the WVU budget office.
"Sharpe has no real experience with concessions," Shaffer said. "No one with real experience was on the evaluation committee."
Bostonia and Sharpe each defended the qualifications of committee members.
The committee judged the Sedexho and American Vending proposals by three criteria -- service, financial considerations and fiscal resources, strength and references. Sedexho received a higher rating in each category.
Under financial considerations, Sedexho included a $3,150,000 guarantee to the university for the duration of the five-year contract. American Vending's guarantee was $1,496,250.
It is that guarantee, Shaffer says, that led WVU to leverage the evaluation process against American Vending. He adds that Sedexho's guarantee only will be met with higher costs to the customers.
Following is a price comparison of both companies proposed menus -- Large Coke: $4 Sedexho, $3 AV; hot dogs: $2.50 Sedexho, $2 AV; pretzels: $3 Sedexho, $2 AV; frozen lemonade: $4 Sedexho, $3 AV. In addition, American Vending serves a five-quart souvenir bucket of popcorn for $4. Shaffer said Sedexho would sell popcorn in a four-quart paper bag for $4.
Bostonia says the contract with Sedexho is not final and that the university reserves the right to approve all pricing.
"We take that very seriously," Bostonia said. "Price increases are still subject to negotiations. We don't expect a significant impact."
Shaffer also said his company was slighted in the category of experience, where Sedexho again won. He claims that 27 years at WVU clearly should have carried enough weight to win.
"That's really insulting," Shaffer said.
WVU cited Sedexho's extensive vending experience with other major universities such as Texas, Florida State and Ohio State.
Still, "I can see where he might have a question there," Sharpe said.
For the immediate future, Shaffer said he's uncertain if he'll appeal the process in court as he did in 1986. Losing his biggest contract, however, does mean he'll have to lay off employees and sell equipment, including some to Sedexho.
WVU officials say they value their relationship with American Vending and welcome it to bid for the contract again when the five-year deal expires.
"We had a good, clean process, and I'm confident American Vending was treated fairly," Sharpe said.
Sports editor Anthony Hanshew can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at email@example.com