NBA Finals hype and the supply of counterfeit merchandise

Ed Seaford

As NetNames representative in San Francisco, I have to admit I’m totally caught up in the hysteria of the Golden State Warriors’ run to the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals. For Game 6 of the semi-final against Oklahoma, I went to a popular Warriors bar in the city’s Mission District. It was packed to rafters; standing room only.

Putting aside that Game 6 of the semi-final was one of the best games of the season – Klay Thompson’s incredible 41-point game and the Warriors’ fourth-quarter comeback – what struck me was that the bar was a virtual sea of blue and gold. I was probably the only person not wearing a Warriors cap, shirt, jersey or jacket. I lost count of the amount of times I was asked if I was an Oklahoma fan.

For Game 7, I decided to not to be the only person in the bar wearing jeans and a polo,

so the next day I went to a few sports stores in my area to look for an official GSW jersey. Two of the stores I visited were sold out, and another didn’t have my size. While at lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf I spotted a few more sports stores, so decided to have a look.

As soon as I entered one shop, I knew something was a bit suspect. It was well presented and clean, and sold shoes, clothing and other sports paraphernalia, but it just didn’t come across as an official or authorized retailer of Warriors merchandise. At the front of the store was what looked to be official Warriors display. I picked up a Klay Thompson jersey and inspected it: the logos were all in the right position, and under the tag was an official patent number, the NBA hologram and even a QR barcode giving a feeling of authenticity.

I kept looking around and found the same GSW jersey on a different rack; identical to the one at the front of the store but at half the price. It had all of the official logos, but on closer inspection I could see that there was no patent number, hologram or QR barcode. I cannot say for certain that it was counterfeit, but all the signs suggested it was.

Unsure whether I would be part of the problem rather than the solution, I decided to not take the risk and ended up going to the official store to buy my official jersey, meaning I would be accepted in the blue and gold crowd later in the evening.

Feeding the merchandise demand

The experience had piqued my interest though, so I decided to investigate the issue in a little more detail. It seems that counterfeiters get as excited about the NBA Finals as the local fans do, but while fans are watching the game, the counterfeiters are profiting from the manufacturers, the NBA and of course the teams’ goodwill.

According to Bay Area BizTalk, during last year’s Warriors appearance in the NBA Western Conference Finals, online and on-street counterfeiting was rampant. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit seized 14,000 GSW items worth an estimated half-million dollars.

The dumping of counterfeit goods on markets where local teams make the finals is the same across all sporting codes and in all geographies. Consumers make a rush on merchandise – particularly the jerseys of their favorite players, reducing the available supply of the genuine items. For instance, sales of the jersey of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player last year, The Warriors’ Stephen Curry, went up by almost 600%.

With demand far outstripping supply of popular items, counterfeiters thrive on the consumer’s desire to quickly buy their gear before the next game or match.

The NBA has urged fans to be on the lookout for counterfeit merchandise, and has offered tips to spot a fake – specifically:

  • look for the hologram sticker or holographic hangtag and a sewn-in or screen-printed neck label identifying the merchandise as ‘genuine’ or ‘official’, as authorized by the NBA
  • shop at NBA-authorized retail locations
  • beware of ripped tags or irregular markings on apparel

It is also assumed that much of the counterfeit gear is bought online through marketplaces where counterfeiting is rampant, and shipped to local distributors. The gear eventually makes its way to street vendors who can be found all over the Bay area.

A quick look at a major online marketplace revealed over 9,000 listings for Stephen Curry  merchandise (predominately t-shirts and jerseys). The marketplace in question is certainly not an official NBA distributor, and neither is it formally associated with Curry’s commercial partner or the manufacturer of Warriors apparel.

On the marketplace, there were listings for Curry jerseys starting at just $4.99 a unit, with the capacity to supply up to 2,000 items per order. As counterfeiters on the ground can sell these jerseys for $50–$99, it is an attractive return on investment for the infringers.

Given the low cost of buying bulk merchandise from online marketplaces, it’s safe to assume that local distributors of counterfeit goods use these channels to feed their respective markets.

So as with all sports, be careful what you buy and where you buy it from. I see counterfeit products every day as a part of my job, but was reminded not to get caught up in the hysteria and to ensure that the gear I buy is authentic.

Go Dubs!