U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced Thursday the seizure of more than 176,000 counterfeit sports-related items, worth an estimated $123 million (MSRP), through a collaborative enforcement operation targeting international shipments of counterfeit merchandise into the United States.
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, Florida, at a joint press conference with the National Football League (NFL), HSI, CBP and the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD).
“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. 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,” said HSI-led IPR Center Director Steve Francis.
Special agents from HSI teamed with industry, CBP, Miami-Dade 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 LIV. 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. 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,” said NFL Vice President of Legal Affairs, Dolores DiBella. “The NFL is committed to supporting these anti-counterfeiting and consumer protection measures, and extends its gratitude for the year-round support of law enforcement partners who drove the success of Operation Team Player.”
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 MSRP of seized goods from 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. 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,” said Christopher D. Maston, CBP Miami International Airport Port Director. “We are honored to be working with a far-reaching network of law enforcement partners, public safety agencies and stakeholders to support efforts enforcing the nation’s Intellectual Property Rights laws in Miami for Super Bowl LIV.”
“When fans spend their hard earned money on NFL tickets and merchandise, they deserve the real deal,” said MDPD Maj. Eric Garcia. “The Miami-Dade Police Department is fully committed to collaborating and partnering with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to proactively enforce laws related to counterfeit merchandise in order to protect businesses and consumers.”
The IPR Center – formally codified in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 – is one of the U.S. government’s key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. The center uses the expertise of its 25 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions, and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft and its enforcement of international trade laws.