WASHINGTON — Federal officials and the National Football League said Thursday that a national law enforcement initiative has snagged $19.5 million in counterfeit sports merchandise over the past year.
They made the announcement in Phoenix, the run-up to the Super Bowl being played there between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Authorities said “Operation Team Player” began after last year’s Super Bowl in early February and targeted international shipments of fake merchandise at U.S. ports, which led to the discovery of warehouses, stores, flea markets and online and street vendors selling counterfeit game-related sportswear and tickets around the country.
Special agents from several agencies, including Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, worked with the major sports leagues to identify and seize more than 326,147 counterfeit items, which included fake jerseys, ball caps, T-shirts, jackets and other souvenirs. Law enforcement officers have also made 52 arrests as part of the yearlong operation, which will continue through Feb. 6.
“Major events like the Super Bowl can highlight an economic problem we face throughout the year — counterfeit products put good, high-paying jobs at risk in places like Seattle, New England and Phoenix,” said David Hirschmann, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Center. “Sports fans need to be aware of criminals trying to take advantage of big events and holidays to sell counterfeit goods and compete with legitimate companies, like the ones that make the hats, jerseys or other Super Bowl souvenirs from many of our most trusted brands.”
ICE director Sarah Saldaña said, “Whether it’s the child in Southeast Asia working in deplorable conditions or local stores going out of business, intellectual property theft is a very real crime with very real victims. No good comes from counterfeiting American products regardless of whether they are all-star jerseys, air bags or aspirin.”