Hessian Bundesliga football (soccer) club Eintracht Frankfurt (SGE) is currently sharing some insights into its measures against counterfeit and unlicensed sports products and fan merchandise, in a report in the trade magazine Fashion United. According to that, the club has been taking stronger action against counterfeit products and brand infringements on the Internet, especially since the coronavirus pandemic – and is confronted with a brisk illegal trade.
With its original products, the long-established club focuses on environmental and social sustainability as well as on supporting regional industries – aspects which are not present in illegal imitations, explains Martin Schittko, Head of Product Management in the merchandising department of the SGE. The club sells original sports goods and fan merchandise exclusively through licensed dealers and its own official fan store on the Internet; there are no original, licensed products sold through third-party platforms.
However, counterfeit jerseys and unlicensed merchandise are frequently found on online marketplaces. Particularly often counterfeited are the jerseys of well-known players, the originals of which are provided by official supplier Nike. The winner of the UEFA Europa League 2022 notices that the problem is exacerbated by major sports successes – because then “the sellers of counterfeits spring up like mushrooms and flood the net,” as Schittko describes.
The speed with which counterfeits enter the market is apparently astonishing – within just a few days, for example, counterfeiters react to newly introduced jerseys, offering imitations for sale e.g. in Turkey. This speed was also demonstrated by counterfeiters during the coronavirus pandemic: Shortly after the SGE had offered protective face masks in the club’s design, supposed Eintracht Frankfurt protective face masks also appeared on various online platforms. Removing these offers was extremely time-consuming, reports Schittko.
In addition to outright counterfeiting, the club also takes action against brand abuse and unlicensed products – especially concerning items which use the club’s logo without permission but which are not sold by Eintracht Frankfurt itself. Dubious suppliers produce these on demand, for example in the form of various tracksuits on which the Eintracht Frankfurt logo is applied without permission. Such offers for unlicensed products are often present on social media in particular, and other football clubs can be affected too. On Facebook, for instance, groups are considered problematic in which vendors sell unlicensed products, possibly without knowing that this can constitute a trademark infringement. While Facebook blocks such trademark-infringing advertising, similar cases quickly reappear. In some cases, operators from Asia in particular, often Indonesia, were playing a Whac-A-Mole game with the clubs.
The Bundesliga club reports coming across counterfeit and trademark-infringing products repeatedly on various platforms, such as Amazon and eBay Kleinanzeigen. In order to scour marketplaces and social media and to get a more accurate picture of the situation, the SGE initially used spare capacities during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the meantime, the company has turned to a service provider with professional software and machine learning to systematically search for counterfeits and brand infringements on the Internet. Schittko explains: “What annoys us is that people are getting rich off our brand and exploiting it. Fans buy a jersey for 90 euros in the store and see that on Alibaba the seemingly same jersey is available for 15 euros. That’s not very encouraging.”