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Op-Ed: A Counterfeiter’s Supply Opportunity: Local Sports Fan Bases Feed Merchandise Demand

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As a recent transplant to San Francisco, I naturally got caught up in the fist-pumping fanaticism around the Golden State Warriors’ run to the NBA Finals. After watching Game 6 in a popular Golden State Warriors bar in the city’s Mission District, and being woefully aware that I was the only person not wearing a Warriors cap, shirt, jersey or jacket, I decided to check out a few sports stores in my area to look for an official GSW jersey—something that would have been appropriate to wear in time for Game 7.

The minute I entered one shop, I knew something was off. Merchandise was well presented and clean, but the shoes, clothing and other sports paraphernalia didn’t look like they were being offered by an official or authorized retailer of Warriors merchandise.

At the front of the store was what appeared to be an official Adidas Warriors display. I picked up a Klay Thompson jersey and inspected it: the logos were all in the right position, the numbers and spelling were right, and under the tag was an official patent number, the NBA hologram and even a QR code. This gave a feeling of authenticity.

As I looked around, however, I found the same jersey on a different rack. It was identical to the one at the front of the store, but half the price. It had all of the official logos, but looking more closely I saw that there was no patent number, hologram or QR code. I can’t say for sure it was counterfeit, but all signs pointed that way. I took my business elsewhere—in fact, I set off on a little investigative quest.

Local fans feed demand for branded merchandise

What I found in short order was that, as local fans watching their heroes win get excited, their sense of loyalty combines with a completely irrational generosity of support, which produces a massive demand for team merchandise.

On the flip side, counterfeiters get just as excited about the NBA Finals as the local fans do. But while fans are watching the game, pumping their fists and wearing the team colors, counterfeiters are profiting from the manufacturers, the NBA—and the teams’ goodwill.

When the Warriors appeared in the 2015 NBA Western Conference Finals, word on the street was that online and curbside counterfeiting was at fever pitch. In fact, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit seized 14,000 fake branded Warriors items worth an estimated half-million dollars.

It’s a truism across all sporting codes and in all geographies that counterfeit goods will flood markets where local teams make the finals.

Consumers make a rush on merchandise—in particular, the jerseys and numbers of their favorite players, which reduces the available supply of genuine branded products. In one case, after the Warriors’ Stephen Curry became the NBA’s Most Valuable Player last year, sales of his jersey—already brisk—skyrocketed by almost 600 percent. With demand far outstripping supply of popular items, counterfeiters thrive on the consumer’s desire—like mine, post Game 6—to buy their gear before the next game or match, or before it runs out.

The NBA itself has urged its fans to be on the lookout for counterfeit merchandise, and has offered these consumer tips on how to spot a fake:

  • Look for the hologram sticker or holographic hangtag and a sewn-in or screen-printed neck label identifying the merchandise as “genuine” or “official” as authorized by the NBA
  • Shop at NBA-authorized retail locations
  • Beware of ripped tags or irregular markings on apparel

The rise and ease of online sourcing has made on-the-street sales of counterfeit goods a profitable and rampant moonlighting gig, as evidenced all over the Bay area. Much of the fake gear, we can assume, is bought online through wholesale marketplaces where counterfeiting is rampant, and is shipped to local distributors.

From there, the fakes find their way to street vendors and other channels to feed their respective markets. I found listings on one online marketplace for Stephen Curry jerseys starting at just $4.99 a piece, with the capacity to supply up to 2,000 pieces per order. As counterfeiters on the ground can sell these jerseys for $50–$99 apiece, it’s an attractive return on investment for the infringing street vendors—an offer too good to pass up.

These days, good sportsmanship—and staying on the right side of the law—starts with being careful about what you buy and where you buy it. Don’t get caught up in the hysteria of game finals—ensure that the gear you’re buying is authentic.

 

Edward Seaford is commercial director of brand protection in the Silicon Valley office of NetNames, a global online brand protection firm. He can be reached at ed.seaford@netnames.com.

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