When one normally thinks of “counterfeits”, one traditionally thinks of handbags, jewelry, trading cards, and maybe even money. Over the last few years, that category has expanded to include not only sports memorabilia, but tickets to sporting events as well. For months leading up to the Super Bowl, special agents from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and state and local police departments around the country worked in partnership with the NFL and other major sports leagues for their own battle against counterfeits called “Operation Red Zone.”
Operation Red Zone not only targeted international shipments of counterfeit merchandise as it entered the United States, but also focused on warehouses, stores, flea markets, online vendors and street vendors. This year marks the fifth consecutive year that the federal government targeted counterfeit merchandise sold around the Super Bowl. Operation Red Zone targets counterfeiting at a variety of levels. By seizing shipments of counterfeit goods, halting sales of counterfeit goods within the US boarders, and seizing internet domains names being used to sell counterfeit goods were seized, the operation seized at least 163,000 counterfeit sports goods worth $17 million.
Of course, the most concerning counterfeit good to a fan is potentially a phony ticket. Vice President of Legal Affairs for the NFL, Anastasia Danais, reports that hundreds of fans are turned away from the Super Bowl each year because they have counterfeit tickets. On some occasions, it is believed that fans may have purchased authentic tickets, but in fact received counterfeit tickets. At this year’s Super Bowl, 168 tickets were seized with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of more than $154,000. Forty-one individuals were arrested nationwide during the operation including six federal and 35 state and local arrests. To combat counterfeit tickets, the NFL implanted security devices to aid in differentiating between legitimate tickets and counterfeits tickets. Additional tactics include laser die cuts placed in the tickets, heat-sensitive ink on the back-side of the ticket, foil embossing the Lombardi Trophy image, and the center of the ticket’s cover art being raised and embossed.
In addition to combating counterfeit tickets and other NFL merchandise, Operation Red Zone is also focusing its efforts on shutting down online distributors of counterfeit goods. A majority of these websites are operated overseas and use sophisticated tactics to appear to be selling authentic NFL merchandise. In recent months 313 domain names have been seized. The battle continues between law enforcement agencies and these websites selling counterfeit goods.