Investigators have seized a record $21.6 million worth of phony NFL merchandise and made dozens of arrests in an ongoing effort to stop the lucrative flow of counterfeit team clothing, sports memorabilia and tickets before Sunday's Super Bowl, authorities said Thursday.
The seizures and arrests were announced at a Manhattan news conference where NFL and law enforcement officials displayed fake Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson jerseys -- complete with knockoff adidas labeling -- Broncos and Seahawks hats, Super Bowl T-shirts and other phony NFL gear.
The knockoffs were being sold on websites that looked so authentic that even the most savvy consumer could be duped, authorities said.
"These are sophisticated websites that mimic and feel like the NFL website," said Anastasia Danias, NFL senior vice president and chief litigation officer.
So far, authorities have arrested 50 people nationwide and shut down more than 5,000 websites accused in the scam.
The seizure and arrests stemmed from an eight-month operation dubbed "Operation Team Player" that netted more than 202,000 counterfeit Super Bowl and NFL-related items. The effort will continue through Feb. 7, officials said.
The estimated value of similar licensed NFL gear is at least $21.6 million, authorities said.
The haul of counterfeit merchandise shattered records set during similar enforcement operations before previous Super Bowls, officials said, adding that last year's effort before the Super Bowl in New Orleans brought about $17 million worth of phony NFL and Super Bowl-related items.
"These counterfeit goods are all around the country preying on unsuspecting fans that hurt American business and cost U.S. jobs," said John Sandweg, acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one of several federal agencies that took part in the operation.
"Fans may believe it's official, but instead they are getting an inferior product."
It's not just bogus hats, jerseys and football memorabilia targeted by federal and local law enforcement.
The NYPD busted two men Monday on charges of selling counterfeit Super Bowl tickets that investigators said were of such high quality, they were concerned the fakes could have fooled electronic scanners at the gates of MetLife Stadium. NYPD officials said NFL investigators tipped them to the scam.
Danias said that, despite the concerns, security designs on legitimate tickets would make it unlikely a counterfeit version would allow entry to the Super Bowl.
Hundreds of fans who have already purchased phony tickets will be turned away at the gates Sunday, Danias said.