Confiscated counterfeit NFL jerseys, caps and T-shirts found during an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in Miami leading up to last year's Super Bowl.
Confiscated counterfeit NFL jerseys, caps and T-shirts found during an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in Miami leading up to last year's Super Bowl. Alan Diaz/AP
More than a hundred million people are expected to watch Sunday's Super Bowl XLV.
Pittsburgh Steelers fans will be twirling their "Terrible Towels" and Green Bay Packers fans will be sporting their foam cheese-heads. And fans on both sides will be wearing jerseys — lots and lots of NFL jerseys. Many of which will be fakes, bought online from counterfeiting companies by people who don't know any better.
Tony Song does.
Tony Song, 22, shows off his authentic Pittsburgh Steelers gear. He's bought more than 25 jerseys from official NFL retailers and claims he can spot a counterfeit.
Tony Song, 22, shows off his authentic Pittsburgh Steelers gear. He's bought more than 25 jerseys from official NFL retailers and claims he can spot a counterfeit. Nathan Rott/NPR
Song, 22, is a Steelers fan. Not just the run-of-the-mill, watch-the-occasional-game Steelers fan, but the die-hard, bleeds-black-and-yellow variety.
"I'm a die-hard fan. I spend all of my money on them, watch them every week, get extremely upset when they lose," he says. "It's not a game. It's do-or-die. It's life."
His fanaticism is pretty easy to see: He's wearing a Steelers baseball cap, Steelers tennis shoes, and an authentic Ben Roethlisberger jersey. "This is exactly pound for pound what he's going to be wearing on the field," Song says of the Steelers quarterback.
The jersey is just one of Song's 15 Steelers jerseys — and that doesn't include the 10 or so others he has for his favorite hockey and basketball teams.
Song owns about $2,500 in sports jerseys, he says.
Collecting jerseys is an expensive hobby for Song because he does it by the books. He only buys authentic gear and he makes sure that it's not counterfeit.
"There's probably 500,000 fake jerseys floating on eBay right now," Song says. "So if you ever want to buy a real jersey, you can't buy it on eBay, or on Craigslist or any of these ads."
The brand protection company MarkMonitor says websites that advertise counterfeit jerseys generate about 56 million page visits a year.
For a recent study, MarkMonitor chose five major sports brands and searched the web for jerseys with their logos. The company found more than 1,300 merchant websites selling questionable gear.
The chief marketing officer, Frederick Felman, estimates 800,000 counterfeit jerseys are sold online each year.
"We found that these are very profitable sites, because they're actually paying for advertising on search engines to actually lead people to counterfeit sites," Felman says.
Felman says the advertising may cost the fraudsters anywhere from a few cents to a couple dollars per ad. He says that's a good indication that the counterfeiters are making a good profit.
Hard To Stop
And Felman says it's hard to stop them. One counterfeiting company can create multiple websites, so if one gets shut down, sales can keep going. It also allows them to spread out internationally, making it harder for Internet service providers (ISPs) and law enforcement agencies to catch them.
"In one instance where we've purchased goods, we've found that the ISP was U.S., the phone number was listed in the U.S., but the people answering the phone were Russian, the credit card that we gave them was processed in Israel, and the goods were shipped from somewhere in Asia," he says.
MarkMonitor finds 20 percent of the people who buy counterfeit jerseys don't know they're getting an illegitimate product.
A counterfeit Green Bay Packers jersey, with the name tag sewn on upside down, was found during a search in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area for unauthentic merchandise leading up to Super Bowl XLIII.
A counterfeit Green Bay Packers jersey, with the name tag sewn on upside down, was found during a search in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area for unauthentic merchandise leading up to Super Bowl XLIII. Steve Nesius/AP
The others may just not have cared. But that's a dangerous way to look at it, Felman says, because buying from a fraudulent company online is a good way to get your identity stolen.
"If it smells a little bit funny, if the website looks a little bit strange, then you should think twice about doing business with them," he says.
Besides, "they just don't look right," Song says. "The material's crappy; it doesn't look as good. You get what you pay for."