Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Counterfitting: On The Biggest Stage In Sports

In a consumer driven economy retailers are constantly in battle to bring potential customers in through their doors. Our recent recession has made many otherwise affluent consumers think twice about pulling the trigger on a hot new item. There are however, few occasions where this prudent contemplation is completely disregarded by impulse. The Super Bowl is one of these occasions where “souvenir hungry fans” are willing to spend, and spend a lot. Fans throw a lot of their hard earned money at vendors for the latest licensed NFL merchandise during Super Bowl week. However, what if that expensive new jersey you purchased for you’re young football fanatic is truly a fake? Clay Matthews of The Green Bay Packers says it best, “I think that when people go out and spend the money to buy official and licensed merchandise, they EXPECT to get that, and not just some counterfeit junk.”

The NFL and their fans have had enough. Beginning all the way in October of 2011, NFL executives partnered with five federal and local law enforcement agencies. The agencies included Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, and finally Indiana State Police. This combination was the single handed biggest collaboration of a major sports league with law enforcement to battle counterfeiters nationwide. They went on to name this effort “Operation Fake Sweep.” This operation was established specifically for Super Bowl XLVI held in Indianapolis on February 5, 2012.

The partnership of law enforcement agencies of this magnitude is telling of the severity of the counterfeit problem. Operation Fake Sweep did exactly as its title infers, it swept through all facets of the underground market. According to ABC news this included but was not limited to, “stores, flea markets and street vendors selling knock-off, game-related sportswear in Indianapolis, and throughout the country.” No merchandise was off limits, anything from souvenirs to team apparel was under the watchful eye of trained agents. Along with traditional market sweeps, agents also worked diligently to screen websites for selling counterfeit merchandise, and even those who streamed licensed NFL games. 

Licensing and owning copyrights to such a big enterprise do not come cheap. The current NFL television rights to broadcasting agreement is said to be the most “lucrative” of all the major American sport leagues. Presently, three television networks including CBS, FOX, and NBC respectively, and cable network ESPN pay the NFL $20.4 billion for these rights. $20.4 billion, this figure is almost too much for fans to understand. However, it is enough to understand why these networks would want to protect their colossal investment. 

After understanding the magnitude of “Operation Fake Sweep,” The big question becomes, what were the fruits of the four month sting? The federal crackdown seized more than $5 million in counterfeit NFL merchandise alone. The seizures did not stop there. Merchandise from all the major sport leagues including NBA, MLB, and NHL counterfeit merchandise brought the total seizure of counterfeit sports novelties close to $6.6 million. Along with the merchandise, over 350 domain names of online websites were instantly shut down and are subject to further federal investigation. For four months of vigilant and at times tedious law enforcement work, these seizures are great news for sports fans across America. Sports fans are loyal and dedicated to their teams; their commitment is second to none. When such loyalty is mocked by low quality piracy, it is enraging. It is refreshing to know that it does not go unnoticed by the high ups and more importantly our hard working law enforcement professionals.


WALL, DAVID S., and JOANNA LARGE. "Jailhouse Frocks: Locating The Public Interest In Policing Counterfeit Luxury Fashion Goods1." British Journal Of Criminology 50.6 (2010): 1094-1116. Criminal Justice Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 7 Feb. 2012.


  1. I think it is great that they created a task force compromised of both Federal and local agencies to infiltrate the illegal market producing unauthorized team memorabilia. Your blog makes me better understand the laws behind producing unauthorized sporting gear. I was not aware of the high dollar amount networks and merchandising firms spend for the licensing agreements to both air the games and to produce the clothing and other sporting gear. As a sports fan, I would be upset if I unknowingly bought a knock-off jersey. But the companies that own the licensing rights to the teams and leagues must be much more outraged when they are spending billions of dollars in order to control the marketing of the memorabilia. I am sure this raid of unlicensed merchants will deter some from committing a similar crime. But at the same time the possibility of making millions of dollars off of this crime will continue to motivate others to take the gamble.

  2. This is a huge industry that a lot of people aren't aware of. I know there are several websites that claim to sell real jerseys and they are cheap fakes. A lot of these sites offer bulk deals to retailers. They are mostly based out of China.They will show pictures of authentic jerseys on the website but that is not the item that is sent. There are a lot of people who resell them that know they are not authentic but will still say they are. I first stumbled upon this while researching the best price for a jersey I wanted a couple years ago. My favorite ones are hockey jerseys which can run over 400 dollars for an authentic jersey! I would caution everyone to beware and know what they are looking for before buying. I have seen several times at the mall when they have the card shows people selling these cheap knock-offs and trying to sell them as the real deal. The best way is to make sure you buy from a reputable dealer but know what you are looking for. I have read where some of these cheap jerseys will fall apart the first time they are washed. It is just amazing that anybody is getting away with this.

  3. I guess it's score one for the good guys then. There have been documentaries, stories etc. on the issue of sports merchandise counterfeiting from jerseys to cards to baseballs, really anything. It is a huge black market that takes away what is rightfully the NFL's, NHL's, MLB's etc. From what I hear, counterfeiters are getting really good in their "trade". Penalties for counterfeiting are pretty strong so naturally these people looking to make a lot of dirty money are going to take any step they can to get away with it.

  4. I think that counterfeit items are a big problem in society today. The problem presented in the blog talks about counterfeit items being passed off as real jerseys. This is a huge problem that seems to be more of a recent issue. Now that certain companies have exclusive rights to certain teams and leagues, sports apparel is becoming a monopoly. Today the outlets in which you can buy sports jerseys is limited. If you want an official NFL jersey you have to go to a sports store and spend eighty dollars where as ten years ago you might have been able to go to stores like KMART and purchase jerseys in the thirty forty dollar range. I think the fact that jerseys cost so much people look to counterfeit jerseys as a cheaper alternative to represent their favorite sports teams. If you go online today you can find "authentic" jerseys for a fraction of the price that look almost exactly like the real things. Counterfeit Jerseys are a huge problem today almost like illegal music downloads. While it is against the law to sell these items many people will continue to buy them for a fraction of the price just as people download music illegally because it is free.

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