Intellectual Property Attorney

NFL and U.S. Customs Announce Seizure Of Counterfeit Merchandise

As reported by, the National Football League (“NFL”) recently announced that it had seized more than $13 million in counterfeit merchandise during the 2012 season through an enforcement program known as “Operation Red Zone.” This included a raid in Rhode Island in September that yielded more than 4,000 counterfeit jerseys and 160,000 pieces of counterfeit Super Bowl memorabilia. The NFL was assisted by governmental authorities, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In addition, the NFL announced that it had shuttered 4,200 unauthorized websites this year alone, although it admitted that such websites often pop up again in mere days utilizing slightly different domain names. According to the NFL’s Vice President of Legal Affairs, “it’s a big game of Whack-A-Mole, where we try to go after counterfeiters and they pop up somewhere else.”

In another recent raid, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) seized more than $3.4 million in counterfeit merchandise at the hubs of DHL and UPS, including a large number of counterfeit 2013 Super Bowl team jerseys.

Pursuing counterfeiters has become increasingly difficult for the NFL in recent years, in large part due to the fact that many counterfeiters are now operating out of China and shipping product directly to consumers in the United States and elsewhere. According to the CBP, 72 percent of its seizures of counterfeit and pirated goods originate in China.

There is no doubt that counterfeiting of sports team branded merchandise is big business. Fanatics, one of the largest online sports retailers and operator of the official NFL website, estimates that it will do $1 billion in business this year. “If you were to say who is our largest competitor, I would say counterfeit,” Fanatics’ President recently opined.

The NFL warns that purchasing counterfeit merchandise is fraught with perils, from colors that fade after one wash to misspellings and loose stitches. The NFL also stresses the damage to the economy and to local authorized merchants, and the fact that counterfeit merchandise is often tied to organized crime. Nevertheless, the high cost of authentic licensed merchandise has prompted many fans to seek out lower cost alternatives. Counterfeiters may also offer variations of products that authorized licensees do not. For example, an authentic stitched NFL jersey, closely resembling the actual jerseys worn by NFL players on game day, can retail for as much as $200. As cited by, a San Francisco 49ers fan was recently able to purchase the counterfeit stitched jersey of Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick for only $35 with free shipping. What’s more, the Kaepernick jersey at issue was not even available through authorized licensees due to his recent emergence as a starting quarterback.

Intellectual property owners involved in merchandising programs have a valuable tool at their disposal to combat the importation of counterfeit goods. For a minimal fee, trademark and copyright owners can record their registrations with U.S. Customs. Intellectual property owners can then work with U.S. Customs to help them distinguish authentic items from counterfeit items, and to assist them in seizing counterfeit merchandise upon entry into the United States.

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