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NHL warns fans of counterfeit Winter Classic merchandise

There's a simple rule about merchandise regarding any large sporting event: If it's priced too good to be true, it's probably fake.

That most certainly applies to the Winter Classic jerseys, hats, t-shirts, banners--hell, WDIV reports that the Detroit Sports Commission is selling the street pole banners currently adorning streetlights on Woodward and Jefferson Avenues for $150 a pop--everything that could possibly have a Red Wings, Maple Leafs and/or Winter Classic logo has been made, but the "real stuff" and the "fake stuff" are surprisingly similar and both mostly made in China these days (easy tip-off #1: Reebok no longer makes merchandise with an "RbK" wordmark; they use a full "Reebok" script, so if you see "RbK" logos, it's fake).

The Toronto Sun's Lance Hornby reports that the NHL's going to conduct a pre-event crackdown on counterfeit stuff sold in both Detroit and Ann Arbor...

With around 107,000 people expected for next week’s Winter Classic, counterfeit souvenirs among the sea of blue and red fans could be difficult to trace for NHL snoops.

But the league says it and local authorities will try and head off the fast-buck artists in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich. It sent out a warning the past few days, urging fans to be vigilant for cheap goods, such as a shabby looking Leafs or Wings logo. They’re promising to seize unofficial wares and pursue legal avenues with those who get caught peddling them.

“Our ultimate responsibility to fans is to ensure that their experience isn’t tarnished by the counterfeiters and their substandard merchandise,” Tom Prochnow, NHL Enterprises group vice-president, legal and business affairs, said in a release. “A counterfeit T-shirt is not a keepsake if it contains a typo or shrinks three sizes when you put it in the laundry.”

Since 1993, the NHL has been involved in the seizure of more than 10.5 million pieces of counterfeit merchandise featuring the logos of various pro sports leagues and teams, colleges and universities — valued at more than $400 million. In connection with the 2012 Winter Classic in Philadelphia, more than 1,100 unauthorized NHL products were seized, valued at more than $250,000.

The NHL says it will be assisting U.S. Homeland Security and other law enforcement branches in prohibiting the sale of such merchandise.

I have a friend who very purposefully bought a counterfeit Winter Classic jersey to make into a "craft," and the easiest way to summarize tip-offs is that the fit and finish are terrible. The stitching is poor and evertying looks cheaply-constructed, like this...

But the fact that the Red Wings and Maple Leafs are wearing "vintage" logos also means that fit and finish on the logos is purposefully going to look a little "off"--and that's a good thing:

Mostly, the jersey isn't going to look "right" because its stitching and logos are going to look less than straight and true and you're going to see a the kinds of details that make you think, "Well, this looks like it's been tossed together in a minute and a half":

MLive's Gus Burns also reported on the crackdown and issued the NHL's release--and I have to say that we're at a point where counterfeiters are good enough that hologram logos aren't necessarily a guarantee anymore. You have to understand that t-shirts cost $20-35 these days, that hats are $30, that jerseys are at least $125 and that somebody selling stuff out of the back of a car or from a set-up tent for merchandise has to be looked at with some concern:

"Consumers generally assume they’re buying authentic NHL merchandise to support their favorite team, only to learn later they’ve obtained counterfeit merchandise of inferior quality," the Coalition to Advance the Protection of Sports logos said in a release Thursday. "When you take into account the capacity of Michigan Stadium (north of 100,000) and the caliber of the Detroit and Toronto fan bases, the NHL is expecting this year’s Winter Classic to break the all-time event attendance record, which means the 2014 NHL Winter Classic is ripe for counterfeiters."

The coalition offers the following tips to consumers who want to authenticate merchandise:

  • Look for the NHL hologram sticker or hangtag and a sewn-in label identifying the merchandise as "official" and authorized by the NHL.
  • Shop at shop.nhl.com, the official online store of the NHL and all 30 teams, and other legitimate retailers, including official locations both inside and outside of Michigan Stadium, rather than buying questionable items from street vendors, flea markets, or other such sources.

Okay, I have to stop here and state that shop.nhl.com's service is terrible, and that, very ironically, their customization of jerseys involves basically heat-sealing names and numbers without including the added stitch-on effects that make jerseys really look and feel like they're something a player would wear. "Legitimate retailers" like SportsK, Detroit Athletic, IceJerseys, etc. will give you both a little more bang for your buck and much, much, much better customer service.

  • Beware of ripped tags, typographical errors, poor quality screen-printing, or irregular markings on apparel.
  • Be suspicious of items when the price is too good to be true.

During the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in Philadelphia, more than 1,100 unauthorized NHL products were seized, valued at over $250,000," the Coalition to Protect Sports logos said.

It may sound campy, but even if you're buying a t-shirt, you're making an investment, and you don't want that $30 to last for one wearing and turn into something you need to donate to the Salvation Army or Goodwill because it doesn't fit and is already showing signs of wear. Be smart, be careful and know that the reality of any large event is that there are people there who are just trying to make a living like you and me and there are also people who are there to try to take advantage of you.

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Alan's avatar

My sweater (sans patch and player name/number) looks legit. Bought it from Detroit Athletic online. I wasn’t paying an additional fee for the patch, as I only had so much money I could spend on myself for Christmas.

Hope everyone out there is careful, as there’s always slick folks trying to make a quick buck off the unsuspecting.

Posted by Alan from Atlanta on 12/27/13 at 04:40 AM ET

Chris from NOHS's avatar

I have a fake Zetterberg from the last one (was given as a gift) and I have to say, I’m completely happy and glad they are available.  Authentic stuff has gotten completely unreasonable.

Posted by Chris from NOHS from Columbus, OH/Grand Rapids, MI on 12/27/13 at 11:03 AM ET

SYF's avatar

If Reebok and the NHL really wanted to go “vintage,” their official gear would’ve been made of wool.  /sarcasm

Like this is a new thing, counterfeit items, to the NHL.  Sheesh.  Another way the NHL takes its fans for granted.

Posted by SYF from A tall cool pint of Guinness on 12/27/13 at 12:09 PM ET

redxblack's avatar

I’m with Chris. I also have a “fake” Zetterberg WC sweater and it’s great. Some of the factories that make licensed materials will run off another batch and sell them as “counterfeit,” which is why some of the knockoffs are so good. Mine was less than $50 and it fits fine.

The shop.nhl.com merch is pretty terrible. The shoulder patches are heat sealed glue and not stitched. The shirt material is thinner than normal and they are often sloppy with the iron. I had a custom made up for my brother and there was an imprint of another team’s logo over the crest of the sweater. Needless to say, I sent it back for a refund and for another $30 I was able to purchase an actual game worn sweater of that player second-hand.

I also bought a DRW tshirt from shop.nhl.com and washed it once. The entire print came off. To their credit, they refunded me the money.

I’ll roll the dice with the counterfeiters rather than patronize the devil I know.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 12/27/13 at 12:24 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.