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Super Bowl Crackdown: Feds, NFL Partner to Sack Fake Sports Merch

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) on Wednesday announced the seizure of more than 169,000 counterfeit sports-related items worth an estimated $45 million over the past year.

The announcement was made during a joint press conference in Tampa, Fla., with the National Football League (NFL), U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) and the Tampa Police Department (TPD) ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs.

“Operation Team Player” is an ongoing annual operation that begins after every Super Bowl and runs through the next one, targeting international shipments of counterfeit sports merchandise into the United States. The operation is run by the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), in collaboration with CBP, the NFL and other major sports leagues to prevent the illegal importation and distribution of counterfeit sports merchandise.

“Make no mistake, intellectual property theft is not a victimless crime,” Steve Francis, IPR Center director, said. “American manufacturers and retailers and those they employ, as well as consumers, are the losers in this game. Fans who spend their hard-earned money to support the NFL and their favorite team can rest assured that HSI and its partners are working around the clock to ensure they are getting only genuine, high-quality officially licensed merchandise in return.”

Dolores DiBella, vice president of legal affairs at the NFL, said Operation Team Player is the most successful and long-standing collaborative effort to protect U.S. consumers from the sale of counterfeit sports merchandise and tickets.

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HSI announced the seizure of more than 169,000 counterfeit sports-related items worth an estimated $45 million in the past year.
Operation Team Player seized jerseys. CBP

“Intellectual property rights enforcement is essential to protecting the health and safety of American consumers; ensuring a level playing field for legitimate U.S. businesses, and tackling domestic and international criminal organizations,” Vernon Foret, CBP director of field operations for Miami and Tampa, said. “CBP personnel are on the frontlines of enforcing intellectual property rights, most visibly by seizing products that infringe on trademarks, copyrights, and patents.”

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

Last year, HSI said enforcement actions related to Operation Team Player resulted in the record-breaking seizure of $123 million worth of counterfeit sports-merchandise. However, due the Covid-19 global pandemic, much of the illegal activity moved online, pushing HSI’s efforts more toward commercial websites engaged in the illegal sale and distribution of counterfeit goods.

This year’s Operation Team Player began at the conclusion of the 2020 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.

The IPR Center, working collaboratively with its public and private sector partners, stands at the forefront of the U.S. government’s response to combatting global intellectual property theft and enforcing intellectual properties rights violations.