$13.6 Million in Counterfeit NFL Merchandise Seized Before Super Bowl
Federal agents announced Thursday the results of a five-month initiative to crack down on counterfeit NFL merchandise. With the aid of the NFL, U.S. law enforcement officials confiscated a record $13.6 million in unauthorized apparel, caps and other football souvenirs.
On Sept. 1, 2012, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents launched "Operation Red Zone," a nationwide effort to stop the sportswear counterfeiting trade. The operation, which will extend through Super Bowl Sunday this weekend, confiscated merchandise from stores and street vendors, shut down websites and intercepted shipments from China. In total, ICE agents shut down 313 websites and arrested 23 individuals. In addition, the NFL reports that it was able to shut down 4,200 websites selling unlicensed merchandise.
John Schmidt, a field supervisor for the Department of Homeland Security, told Today.com that the government's interest in stopping counterfeiters extends beyond simply enforcing the NFL's trademark. "The proceeds from the sale of these items support criminal enterprises like gangs, drug organizations, underground networks," he said.
A major issue for authorities is the speed at which counterfeiters are able to bring product, mostly produced in China, into the U.S. In the two weeks since the NFL conference championships, authorities seized more than 160,000 pieces of Super Bowl XLVII-related merchandise depicting both the Baltimore Ravens' and San Francisco 49ers' logos. ICE expects that number to increase over the next several days and expect to seize more, particularly in New Orleans where the game is being held this year.
Counterfeit sports gear has seen a significant rise in the past several years. In 2011, ICE's "Operation Interception" seized a then-record $3.56 million worth of fake Super Bowl product. The ease and speed of producing the merchandise overseas has made it attractive to some sellers. A second factor is the cost of official merchandise apparel: a licensed Nike jersey can run from $100 to $250 depending on the quality of the material and type of decoration. Some sites are offering knockoffs of these same jerseys for as little as $20.