Sure, that Eagles T-shirt looks good on you, but are you sure it’s not counterfeit?
Fake Super Bowl merchandise is flooding into the Twin Cities this week, and federal agents who usually fight terrorists are stalking our skyways and scrutinizing shopping tags to figure out if they can seize racks full of suspect sweatshirts and sham hats.
It’s a big problem, according to the National Football League.
Before last year’s Super Bowl in Houston, agents with the Department of Homeland Security — working with local law enforcement — confiscated more than 260,000 counterfeit items worth more than $20 million, court records show. A total of 56 people were arrested for selling illegal merchandise, including fake tickets to the big game.
And that wasn’t the biggest haul. That happened in 2016, when 450,000 illegal items worth $39 million were seized.
On Monday, a Hennepin County judge granted the league and its agents permission to seize all suspected contraband without the notices typically required in court. The order came in response to an emergency lawsuit the league filed against 100 unspecified counterfeiters on Jan. 24.
In its lawsuit, the NFL described “large networks of itinerant resellers looking to maximize their profits as quickly as possible before leaving town without a trace.”
The NFL said in the suit that fans suffer because many of the counterfeit items are of substandard quality, with clothing tearing, shrinking and fading prematurely. They said fans can often spot the difference between fake and legitimate clothing by checking for low quality fabric, loose stitching and off-center logos.
“Only companies that meet high standards of quality, performance and reliability receive a license to use or sell products bearing the NFL trademarks,” the league said in its suit.
Tickets are another hot item for counterfeiters, and the stakes are even higher for those who get suckered. Every year, according to league officials, fans are turned away at the stadium because they bought a counterfeit ticket, or came with a ticket that had been stolen and resold.
To avoid being victimized, the NFL urges fans to avoid buying tickets from someone on the street, and to pay for all transactions with a credit card. League officials also note that counterfeit tickets can be quite sophisticated. To deter fraud, the NFL insists on paper tickets using logos with heat sensitive ink.
The hologram logo disappears when rubbed and returns when the ink cools. Other images can only be seen under black light.
NFL officials declined to answer questions about counterfeiting on Wednesday.
The league will hold a news conference Thursday at which law enforcement officials will announce “the latest results of seizures and counterfeit game-related merchandise and tickets.” In an e-mail, Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Bourke said agents confiscated more than 1,600 counterfeit items at a St. Paul retail outlet Tuesday and were “out-and-about targeting various storefronts.”
The counterfeits may be hard to spot, especially for untrained sports fans. While stores throughout the Twin Cities are selling Super Bowl-related clothing and novelty items, the streets and skyways of downtown Minneapolis were largely free of obvious fakes on Wednesday afternoon.
In the blocks surrounding Super Bowl Live on Nicollet Avenue, no one was selling Super Bowl merchandise from an impromptu kiosk or folding table. A sales clerk at an NFL Shop in the old Macy’s building said there is one sure way to spot a fake from the real thing. “All of our stuff has this hologram label,” she said, pointing to a shimmery NFL label attached to every T-shirt, jacket and cap in the store.
In its lawsuit, the league noted that all of its licensees “are required to affix an NFL security label to their NFL products or product packaging,” noting that this “hologram tag” is an “essential element of NFL product authentication.”
But even that standard seems slippery.
At the Target store on Nicollet Avenue on Wednesday, there were racks of Super Bowl T-shirts without hologram tags being sold under a sign advertising the shirts as “officially licensed NFL product.” Next to the shirts were racks of Super Bowl sweatshirts and other clothing that sported the required tags.
When asked if the untagged shirts were legal or not, department manager Jamie Haralson chuckled. “We didn’t get this stuff until late last week,” Haralson said. “It is official merchandise.”
Haralson said Target’s manufacturer didn’t have enough time to add the required security tags and get the shirts to Minneapolis in time for the big game. All of the suspect shirts featured the names of the participating teams, the Eagles and the Patriots.
Haralson said Target expects to sell about $1 million worth of Super Bowl shirts and related merchandise at its Nicollet store. “I know it doesn’t look like it, because the racks are all full, but it’s selling pretty good,” he said.