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Flag on the Play: Super Bowl Spurs Record $123M Haul of Bogus Sports Merch

Call it the Super Bowl of counterfeit goods crackdowns.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized more than 176,000 counterfeit sports-related items worth an estimated $123 million, they announced Thursday.

A collaborative enforcement operation targeted international shipments of counterfeit merchandise into the U.S. The seizures were part of Operation Team Player, an ongoing effort developed by the HSI-led Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Center to target the illegal importation and distribution of counterfeit sports merchandise, and were revealed in Miami at a joint press conference with the National Football League (NFL), HSI, CBP and the Miami-Dade Police Department.

“Every day, cargo containers containing billions of dollars’ worth of counterfeit goods enter the United States through its land, sea and air ports of entry,” IPR Center director Steve Francis said. “This year’s record-breaking ‘Operation Team Player’ results affirm HSI’s commitment to protecting American consumers, the economy and legitimate business by ensuring Super Bowl LIV is not compromised by transnational criminal networks exploiting fan enthusiasm for illicit profits.

“Sports fans from around the world, who’ve spent their hard-earned money to support their favorite NFL team, deserve to receive genuine, high-quality officially licensed merchandise in return,” Francis added.

Special agents from HSI teamed with industry, CBP, Miami-Dade police and other partner agencies to identify flea markets, retail outlets and street vendors selling counterfeit goods during the week leading up to the Super Bowl set for Sunday. They seized fake jerseys, jewelry, hats, cell-phone accessories and thousands of other bogus items prepared to be sold to unsuspecting consumers.

“Operation Team Player remains one of the most important national initiatives for protecting sports fans from the sale of counterfeit products and counterfeit tickets,” NFL vice president of legal affairs Dolores DiBella said. “The joint efforts of the NFL, the IPR Center, HSI, CBP and Miami area law enforcement have helped ensure that Super Bowl LIV remains an authentic and outstanding experience for our fans.”

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Last year, HSI announced that enforcement actions related to Operation Team Player resulted in the seizure of $24.2 million worth of counterfeit sports merchandise. Enforcement actions related to this year’s operation led to a 400 percent increase in the overall value of seized goods around Super Bowl LIII.

This year’s Operation Team Player began at the conclusion of last year’s Super Bowl. Throughout the year, the IPR Center led coordinated efforts with major sporting leagues to target contraband that impacts the economy, enables additional criminality and poses potential health and safety hazards to the public.

“To protect both private industry and consumers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made IPR enforcement a priority trade issue,” Christopher D. Maston, CBP Miami International Airport port director, said. “We have developed a multi-layered, strategic approach to IPR enforcement that uses technology to increase interdiction of fake goods, facilitate partnerships with industry and enhance enforcement efforts through the sharing of information and intelligence.”