While counterfeiting is a problem all throughout the year, there are certain events that present a particular risk. Major sporting events like the Super Bowl routinely attract a lot of spending on tickets and merchandise, and wherever there is a lot of consumer spending, the counterfeiters aren't far behind.
In anticipation of the Super Bowl, we'll be taking an in-depth look at the counterfeiting that surrounds it and the extensive brand protection activities that help to protect the league, the teams and most importantly, the fans.
It should surprise no one that counterfeit tickets are an extremely common scam, especially to headline events like the Super Bowl.
"[The fake ticket] had a hologram and the raised typeface. The only thing that wasn't right was the face value."
Demand far outpaces supply, and tickets are generally spoken for long before they are even printed. Instead, fans purchase tickets on the secondary market. One of the first things we tell people is don't buy your tickets off Craigslist. Look for safe and secure sites like the NFL Ticket Exchange or sites like StubHub that guarantees the validity of your ticket. You don't want to get to the gate and have your spirits deflate faster than a New England football.
Fans should also be careful when buying tickets off the street. As long as the tickets are sold for face value or less, scalping tickets is legal in some states, including Arizona, where the Super Bowl will be held this year. However, these instant street transactions open the door for fraudsters selling fake tickets. Still want to take the chance? Ask the seller to walk in through the gate with you – any hesitation on their part could raise a huge red flag.
Last year, a number of fans were duped into buying fake tickets in just this way. Fox Sports interviewed a number of these people, some of who paid in excess of $2,000. Of particular concern is the quality of the fakes.
The NFL uses multiple product authentication practices to cut down on fakes. (The Super Bowl does not use print-at-home tickets.) These include bar codes, holographic security labels, heat-activated ink and embedded electronic security.
"It had a hologram and the raised typeface," one fan who purchased a counterfeit ticket told the news source. "The only thing that wasn't right was the face value. It said $600."
The NFL coordinates with local authorities and uses both uniformed and undercover police to patrol outside the Super Bowl to look for those selling fake or stolen tickets, Fox Sports explained. NFL employees and agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who can identify invalid tickets are also on the scene.
While counterfeit tickets offer scammers the most lucrative margins on their wares, phony merchandise is also common. This type of counterfeiting is also potentially dangerous to fans. You might be okay with it being cheap because you paid less than market value for it. But dangerous inks and fabric chemicals can make you sick… suddenly that cheap jersey cost you more than you bargained for.
ABC News recently reported on an ongoing investigation by The Council of Better Business Bureaus against websites claiming to sell "official" NFL merchandise to unsuspecting customers. A search of the phone number listed for the website yielded countless complaints from fans who received fake, low quality merchandise, clearly indicating that these consumers did not know they weren't getting the real deal.
"The sale of counterfeit goods undermines one of the foundations of the U.S. economy, which is innovation."
The federal government frequently works with brands experiencing higher than usual counterfeiting activity, like last year's "Operation Team Player," according to ABC News. In that enforcement, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement and other agencies worked together to seize more than 397,000 items of fake clothing and memorabilia. Combined retail value? $37.8 million.
Cronkite News indicated that low quality counterfeit merchandise looks to be just as big, if not a bigger problem this year. A Tyrann Mathieu jersey - retail value $70 to $120 - displayed by the Phoenix Police Department on Jan. 15 shows the difference. At first glance it looks about the same, but the cheap stitching and lack of an NFL security label show that it is not.
"One of the main messages we want to get across is that counterfeiting is not a victimless crime," said Matthew Allen, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, according to Cronkite News. "The sale of counterfeit goods undermines one of the foundations of the U.S. economy, which is innovation."
Anti-counterfeit agents will be hard at work protecting the NFL, business owners and consumers at this year's Super Bowl. Chances are fake goods won't disappear altogether - their high profit margin and lower prices make them irresistible to unsavory elements - but everyone will be working hard to connect as many customers to legitimate sources as possible.
Bill Patterson is OpSec's Vice President of Global Licensing. He is responsible for protecting the royalty stream and brand names of many of the world's largest licensed properties.