Feds: Record $123M in fake NFL sports gear seized since last Super Bowl

NFL Senior Counsel Michael Buchwald held up authentic Super Bowl tickets at the NFL Super Bowl LIV counterfeit merchandise and tickets press conference Thursday at the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
NFL Senior Counsel Michael Buchwald held up authentic Super Bowl tickets at the NFL Super Bowl LIV counterfeit merchandise and tickets press conference Thursday at the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Federal agents have seized counterfeit sports items worth an estimated $123 million since last year's Super Bowl, and the NFL is taking extra measures to limit the sale of fake gear and counterfeit Super Bowl LIV tickets this week.

The record haul is 400 percent greater than the $24.2 million in items seized during the previous year, government officials. The dollar figures are based on suggested list price of identical, real items.


U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations announced Thursday the seizure of the 176,000 pieces of gear during a news conference with several federal agencies, local police and the NFL ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl.

The announcement, the only major damper during an upbeat week of pregame festivities throughout South Florida, was timed in part to discourage fans from buying counterfeit tickets and fake gear people near Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.


The fake items seized since Feb. 3, 2019, include jerseys, hats and jewelry. Law enforcement officers have made 25 criminal arrests related to Operation Team Player to curtail counterfeit goods.

The operation, officials said, is an effort by the Homeland Security Investigations-led Intellectual Property Rights Center to target the illegal importation and distribution of counterfeit sports gear.

"The NFL is committed to supporting these anti-counterfeiting and consumer protection measures, and extends its gratitude for the year-round support of law enforcement partners who drove the success of Operation Team Player," said Dolores DiBella, NFL vice president of legal affairs.

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The proceeds from the counterfeit and stolen goods are often are used to support additional criminal activity, including human trafficking, forced labor, identity theft, drug smuggling and more, according to federal agents.

The Intellectual Property Rights Center works with major sports leagues to target contraband that impacts the economy, enables additional crime and poses possible health and safety hazards to the public.

The FBI is working with city, state and county police, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Aviation Administration, Secret Service, Border Patrol and others to secure the area around Hard Rock Stadium and prevent the selling of counterfeit merchandise and tickets for Sunday's Super Bowl LIV.


"Not only does an event of this nature lend itself as a possible target for violent actors and potential terrorists, but it is also an attractive destination for human trafficking activity, as well as the sale of counterfeit goods," Department of Homeland Security acting secretary Chad Wolf said.

The NFL has obtained a a civil court order to assist in the immediate seizure of counterfeit merchandise and tickets in the Miami area, officials said.

"Every year, fans who arrive at the stadium on game day are turned away at gates because they bought counterfeit tickets," NFL senior counsel Michael Buchwald said Thursday. "The quality of counterfeit tickets can be very sophisticated. No matter how real the tickets may look, a fake ticket will not get you into the game."

Fake tickets are becoming more common because of the rising cost of Super Bowl tickets, which are offered for more than $5,000 each in legitimate secondary markets.

The league has taken extreme measures to curb the fake ticket market, including using thermochromic ink. The ink was used for the Super Bowl LIV logo on the lower-back portion of this year's ticket. If the ink is heated up, the logo fades. The logo returns to its original appearance when heat is removed.


In addition, custom clear, raised graphics, appear on the front of real tickets. They also feature several unique logos.

"When fans spend their hard-earned money on NFL tickets and merchandise, they deserve the real deal," Miami-Dade County Police Department Maj. Eric Garcia said.

"The department is fully committed to collaborating and partnering with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to proactively enforce laws related to counterfeit merchandise to protect businesses and consumers," Garcia said.

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