Back when it mainly operated out of car trunks and dodgy side streets, the knock-off industry was a marginal phenomenon – but the Internet has given it global reach and now the NHL is fighting back.
Counterfeit hockey merchandise – and, more particularly, sweaters – is a growing scourge for NHL teams, and league officials are launching a new public campaign in Montreal on Thursday to draw attention to the problem and to urge consumers to turn their backs on fakes.
"It's a massive problem, and it's getting worse, look at what happened in Winnipeg this summer, jerseys were available on the Internet even before the final colours were chosen," a hockey industry source said.
The Montreal Canadiens have had a particular problem with counterfeit goods – special edition jerseys to commemorate the club's 2009 centennial were copied within hours and quickly began flooding the market – and it's no coincidence that they will play host to Thursday's news conference, which will also be attended by league executives and the company that makes the NHL's jerseys.
Former Habs captain Guy Carbonneau will be the face of the new campaign – last year the Canadiens ran in-house ads featuring current captain Brian Gionta.
In addition to showing buyers how to differentiate between licensed and phony articles, sources said, the new effort will stress the negative financial impact that counterfeiting is having on teams, sports retailers, and also on the manufacturing industry. Reebok, which is the official replica jersey supplier for the NHL, makes its Habs apparel in nearby St. Hyacinthe, Que.
In stepping up its fight against the illegal use of its trademarks, the NHL is emulating efforts by the NFL, Major League Baseball and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has been especially zealous in litigating against counterfeiters and unauthorized broadcasts of its events.
But like its colleagues in other pro sports leagues, the NHL faces a daunting challenge; the vast majority of the knock-off team merchandise is produced overseas, primarily in Asia, and sold wholesale on the web.