The NFL and Major League Baseball are not fond of items that don’t come from licensed manufacturers.
The autographs were apparently fine. Real signatures of real players. The jersey that held the Sharpie scroll was the problem according to NFL investigators and police who carried some $20,000 worth of signed memorabilia out of a Baltimore-area sports card and memorabilia shop last month.
Several dozen autographed jerseys and some unsigned shirts were confiscated after the league and police acted on a tip. It wasn’t a major bust, but it did serve notice that shops and dealers who carry jerseys and other products that don’t carry an official league license might be running a risk.
It’s not illegal to stock a bergundy and gold jersey that might bear a close resemblance to what the Washington Redskins wear. Placing trademarks and emblems belonging to the league and its teams on those jerseys is a different story.
"When you start to put a name, a logo or a mascot patch on a jersey, you have a counterfeit," said Richard Logue of Blazer Investigations, a company that works with the NFL to protect the league’s investment and its licensees.
Many of the jerseys are made in China and are often convincing to those who don’t compare them to the licensed products. Many carry fake holograms or tags and some are labeled with knockoff manufacturer tags that don’t match up with the actual manufacturer of licensed jerseys. In the NFL’s case, Reebok is the sole maker of current NFL jerseys.
"Small stores will try to cut corners," Logue told SportsCollectorsDaily.com. "They’ll buy some cheaper counterfeit jerseys from someone selling them in a cash-only deal out of the trunk of a car. Then they’ll filter those in with the real jerseys to mask what they’re doing."
The makers of counterfeit jerseys can sell their shirts for as little as one-third the cost of a licensed product, allowing the dealer to reap a substantial profit. It’s tempting, especially if he can add an autograph and increase the price. Losses, however, can be substantial if those autographed items are confiscated and an aggressive prosecutor pushes the case. Dealing in trademark counterfeiting is a felony, sometimes punishable by a fine and/or jail time.
The NFL’s investigators were busy at the Super Bowl and NFC and AFC Championship games, confiscating thousands of unlicensed products.
Later this week, Major League Baseball’s undercover investigators will look for illegal merchandise being sold in and around San Francisco, site of this year’s All Star game.
In the last six months, the league has seized 493,000 units of merchandise — everything from caps to baseball cards— from counterfeiters, said Ethan Orlinsky, the senior vice president and general counsel for Major League Baseball Properties. At one Manhattan store alone, they seized 40,000 illegally produced hats.
"We take very seriously anyone who engages in the illegal act of counterfeiting. Through the collective efforts of the participating local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, we are committed to the goal of ensuring that fans only receive official MLB licensed products during All-Star Week."