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Bulls’ success attracts counterfeiters

These shirts were confiscated outside of the USF v. University of Central Florida football game Saturday, Oct. 13. Special to the Oracle

The Bulls’ uninterrupted string of victories this season has drained local stores of team-related merchandise.

But it has also attracted counterfeiters looking to make a buck on the Bulls’ success.

Agents from the Collegiate Licensing Company, which distributes the trademarked logos of over 200 colleges and universities to qualified retailers and manufacturers, staked out the crowd at the game against Central Florida to catch counterfeiters and put them out of business.

With help from the Tampa Police Department, they seized 157 T-shirts from vendors in parking lots outside the Raymond James Stadium. The shirts used the trademarked logos of USF and the University of Central Florida without the consent of either institution.

CLC officials said that the seizure of 157 illegal products was hardly record-setting for the Atlanta-based company – at Bowl Championship Series games, for example, agents have found up to 2,500 counterfeited articles.

What the CLC’s presence at the game indicates, though, is that with the legitimate sale of merchandise comes the illegitimate.

“If they continue on their streak of winning, then more than likely you’ll see more bootleg product out in the marketplace, and it will probably begin to span outside the vicinity of the stadium,” said Derek Hughes, the Corporate Communications Manager for CLC. “You’ll see more counterfeiters setting up on street corners, selling out of their trucks.”

But the CLC, which has represented the University’s merchandising interests since 2003, intends to keep the underground industry under control.

As the University never sees a cent of the profits that come from the sale of illegitimate merchandise, USF contracts with CLC to ensure that it is paid royalties for every use of its name and logo.

Those royalties could be applied to the Athletics program and development projects on campus, said Mike Carlton, Director of University Services for CLC.

When people sell products of their own design with USF’s name and logo, the University also loses control over the public presentation of its brand, said Senior Associate Athletics Director Bill McGillis. Bootleggers can give the University a bad name by selling items of inferior quality and which have offensive language and imagery, he explained.

Bootleggers feed off of the “fan frenzy for product” stemming from national prominence and unbroken records, and McGillis said that’s not unusual for a team that’s hitting it big.

“Everyone wants to get a piece of that (frenzy),” Hughes said.

Similar counterfeiting has happened with the University of Florida Gators, whose football and basketball teams have often been in the national spotlight.

Hughes said the CLC would find bootlegged products around stadiums, and in areas with high alumni populations like Jacksonville and Tampa.

“Bootleggers know where the fans are,” he said.

The merchandise seized at the UCF game included three different T-shirts. One, described by Hughes as a rivalry shirt, reads “Battle of I-4”, and uses both universities’ logos. Another shirt simply had the text “I Love UCF”, and a third carried a derogatory statement about the Bulls.

Representatives of CLC were first on hand for USF at the West Virginia game, but they didn’t seize any merchandise. Representatives found shirts with insulting statements against West Virginia, an institution CLC doesn’t represent.

When they find people selling homemade merchandise, CLC and the University offer violators the chance to freely surrender the products without fear of prosecution, provided they sign a form admitting they made the products without consent and promising not to bring legal action.

“If not, we will step away and let the law handle it,” Carlton said.

If a bootlegger does not surrender the merchandise, the police enforce any state statute or city ordinance pertinent to unauthorized manufacture of intellectual property.

Carlton said USF has been getting more interest as a trademarked logo and brand from national retailers.

Dillard’s never carried Bulls merchandise outside its store in the University Mall until the 2007 football season’s high-profile victories.

The department store chain now stocks the merchandise in all five of its Tampa locations.

In the Tampa Bay area, officially licensed USF merchandise can also be found at national retailers like Wal-Mart, Lids and Champs Sports.

USF has seen royalties from merchandise sales rise 77 percent in the past five years, according to a CLC press release. Champion, EA Sports, Nike and JanSport are among USF’s top manufacturers.

Mike Carlton, Director of University Services for CLC, said more fans than ever wanted to get their hands on USF gear.

“Demand for officially licensed merchandise is at an all-time high for the University of South Florida,” he said in the release.

Dan Catlin can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or oraclecatlin@gmail.com.

INFO:

CLC brands all of its licensed merchandise with a hologram designating the item an “Officially Licensed Collegiate Product”. The hologram is an assurance that the University approves the product.

Consumers should be suspicious of items that are cheaply made and contain profanity and offensive imagery. The University imposes “stringent quality standards” on items produced by licensed manufacturers. A torn or missing neck tag is also a sign of counterfeit manufacture.