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Is that a real NHL T-shirt you have on?

The National Hockey League is on the lookout for souvenir counterfeiters who might try to steal the Lightning's thunder.

By JEFF HARRINGTON
Published May 20, 2004

photo
[Courtesy National Hockey League]
The spelling of Vinny Lecavalier's name in this jersey purchased on eBay is one tipoff that it's not the genuine article.

The Tampa Bay Lightning is still a win away from the Stanley Cup finals. But some executives in the National Hockey League already are forecasting a victory as they prep for two big games in Tampa next week: the finals and the counterfeit game.

Executives from NHL Properties, the league's licensing and marketing arm, began making plans Wednesday for a trip to Tampa in their endless mission to stop peddlers of unlicensed NHL and team merchandise.

"We know how much excitement there is in the local market for the Lightning. There's going to be those opportunists out there looking to capitalize on that," said Michael Gold, associate counsel in legal and business affairs for NHL Enterprises.

Gold is bringing his team to Tampa on Tuesday to begin the scofflaw search. Enlisting the aid of area law enforcement, he expects about a dozen or so officials will be canvassing the parking lots and sidewalks outside St. Pete Times Forum.

Gold said he's also leaving open the option of a Philadelphia trip should the Flyers come back. Yet, after Tampa Bay's win in Game 5 and its 3-2 advantage, "that's the tip of the scale for us," he said.

Tampa has had its share of big sporting events in recent years, hosting the Super Bowl, the Final Four and the NHL All-Star game. All of them were fertile ground for purveyors of fake jerseys and counterfeit tickets.

But a Stanley Cup final is uncharted ground in Tampa and, as such, Gold said he's not sure how much of a problem there will be.

Historically, phony T-shirts are the biggest issue. "Jerseys are certainly a problem, too, but because it's harder to produce and make it seem real, it's more of a specialty issue," Gold said. "Anybody can crank out T-shirts."

During the playoff series against Montreal, NHL scouts cracked down on a large booth selling bootleg merchandise outside the Times Forum, said Sean Henry, chief operating officer of Lightning owner Palace Sports & Entertainment.

"It's a problem," Henry said. "It hurts anyone that holds the (NHL team) license. It hurts each team. It hurts the (merchandising) numbers you're doing."

Wary fans should look for obvious clues: poor stitching, faded colors and misspellings. Like the shirt one fan bought off eBay hawking the jersey of Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier. It wasn't until after the buyer received the shirt, Gold said, that he noticed the spelling of "LECALALIER." By contrast, official NHL products typically include the NHL hologram and logo, the name of the licensed manufacturer and a trademark.

Last year, a coalition of major professional leagues and college teams reported seizing about 330,000 pieces of unlicensed merchandise worth about $12.5-million.

Gold said buyers may think they're getting a bargain but wind up with something that falls apart.

"If you're buying a souvenir, you want something that is going to be quality and going to last," he said. "You want to get the real thing."

- Jeff Harrington can be reached at harrington@sptimes.com or 813 226-3407.

[Last modified May 20, 2004, 01:02:41]

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