Super Bowl counterfeits

Despite the global pandemic having a major impact on both travel and sporting events across the world, last weekend saw the 55th Super Bowl take place in Tampa, Florida in front of approximately 22,000 NFL fans. Whilst the capacity for the event had been significantly reduced in light of Coronavirus and the necessary social distance measures and that for the first time in Super Bowl history, a host team had made the show piece event, interest from fans globally was probably stronger than ever.

One reason behind that was the presence of Tom Brady as the key man, the quarter back, for Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who was playing in his tenth Super Bowl in a career that had spanned over twenty years. Like him or loathe him, the battle between Brady and his 25 year old nemesis on the Kansas City side, Patrick Mahomes, was a major talking point in the run up to the game.

The shirts of the respective quarter backs are normally the best sellers in the run up to the Super Bowl. Fanatics, the NFL’s official e-commerce partner, reported that sales of Buccaneers shirts with Brady’s name on the back had become their best selling NFL shirt ever in the run up to the game in early February – in fact his number 12 shirt was the platform’s best selling item across all sports in the period from August to November. Interestingly, if you look at sales across the whole NFL season it wasn’t Brady but Mahomes’ name that drove the most sales.

In the two weeks before the game, the hot spot for people buying Brady’s shirt was Tampa – not really surprising considering that that is where the Buccaneers are based and also the location of the Raymond James Stadium, the venue for the Super Bowl.

The Covid-19 pandemic had not only had an impact on the number of people who could attend the game – the Raymond James Stadium has a capacity for nearly 66,000 fans, but also on those who could and would normally travel to the Super Bowl city to enjoy the weekend of partying. Social distancing meant that bars, restaurants and hotels had capacity-limiting measures in place that put thousands off making their annual pilgrimage. However, that didn’t stop the counterfeiters descending on the city with their illegal wares.

Operation Team Player is the annual joint agency effort aimed at cracking down on illegal merchandise and tickets being sold around the Super Bowl weekend. Customs Border Protection, Homeland Security and the host city’s law enforcement teams come together to make a concerted effort to remove as much counterfeit products as possible as well as trying to stop the trading of fake tickets. Last year in Miami, a record-breaking amount of $123 million worth of counterfeit sports goods were seized, with over 176,000 items found to be fake.

Perhaps surprisingly this year the team found a similar number of items (approximately 169,000) but the value was markedly lower – around $44 million which was in line with significantly less people travelling to the city for the event. It is perhaps a much lower figure because Tampa Bay Buccaneers were playing in their home city and many of their fans, based locally, already had their merchandise. Likewise, the demand for tickets may have been lower due to the number of travelling fans being much less than normal. The authorities also singled out that the number of counterfeits entering the country was estimated to be much lower this year due to the pandemic.

The ongoing operation has taken almost a billion dollars of fake merchandise off the streets since it began in 2013 and extends beyond the National Football League’s annual final into other sports including Baseball, Ice Hockey and Basketball. For brand and rights holders their work is vital in the ongoing battle against counterfeiters. They know that it is unlikely there will a day when the war is won but at least they can go into the annual battlefield knowing their actions will at least hurt the enemy and protect the consumers.

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