Super Bowl Merchandise Still Rife with IP Theft

This February, Americans gathered to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs duke it out in Super Bowl LV. At the same time, there was another fight taking place in the background: the battle against intellectual property theft.

The National Football League (NFL) has incredibly valuable trademarks, logos, and branding. Bad actors around the world attempt to take advantage of that valuable intellectual property every year by creating and distributing counterfeit versions of their merchandise. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) recently announced that they have seized more than 169,000 counterfeit sports items over the last year, adding up to approximately $45 million.

With annual domestic viewership of almost 100 million people, the Super Bowl is perhaps the biggest opportunity for sports counterfeiters to illegally profit. In order to combat the theft of sports-related intellectual property, HSI leads an ongoing annual operation called “Operation Team Player” that begins after each Super Bowl and spans until the next one.

In the lead-up to Super Bowl LV, HSI worked with Customs & Border Protection (CBP), the Tampa Police Department, and industry leaders to identify and confiscate counterfeit jerseys, hats, and accessories related to the game from local vendors. Seizures this year were down from last year, when Operation Team Player seized a record-breaking $123 million of counterfeit Super Bowl merchandise. Even so, HSI said they seized approximately $70 million in counterfeit items in the Tampa Bay area alone between October 1st, 2020 and the big game.

Preventing the distribution of counterfeits is important because they take hard-earned value away from companies and organizations that built their brands from the ground up. According to Immigration & Customs Enforcement, counterfeits may also be lower quality or dangerous for consumers. Ensuring intellectual property protections means that the rights of businesses, laborers, and consumers can all be protected.

Luckily, while football fans were focused on the Buccaneers’ victory, Homeland Security and CBP were doing the important work of making sure the IP pirates didn’t win.

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