Jason Rocker is a spokesman for the U.S. Golf Manufacturers Anti-Counterfeiting Working Group. (They don’t have an acronym but if they did, here it is: USGMACWG.) Want to know the amount of counterfeit golf clubs that are made each year? Read on…
Golf Conversations: I’ve bought a fair amount of golf equipment in my lifetime, so I’m very interested in what you guys do.
Jason Rocker: The anti-counterfeiting group was formed in 2004. About that time, some of the large manufacturers realized that there was a counterfeit problem. They said, “Why should we be attacking this as one-offs? Let’s band together and form a consortium and really attack this as an industry.”
GC: Like the Five Families!
JR: Right, exactly! That was the genesis of it. The sophistication and depth of their efforts has expanded over the years. There have been some folks that have been in the group and out of the group, but now it’s six of the larger manufacturers that are part of the group.
GC: And those are?
JR: Acushnet – which has Titleist, Foot-Joy, Scotty Cameron – Taylor Made, PING, Cleveland – which is Srixon and XXIO – Callaway/Odyssey, and PXG. We are attacking on two fronts: Education and Enforcement. The enforcement is working directly with law enforcement officials in China to identify counterfeit operations and shut them down. We have a law firm and private investigators that we work with there to identify …
GC: In China?
JR: In China. Greater than 90% of the counterfeit products come out of China. With enforcement, we’re attacking the root cause. Here in the U.S., we have an intellectual property attorney who is working with the federal courts to say, “These web sites are selling counterfeit products — shut them down.” We’ve shut down hundreds of web sites. In the past year, we also created an online monitoring program for third-party websites like eBay and Ali Baba. We have professionals who are monitoring those sites, identifying counterfeit products and then working with the administrators of those sites to remove the listings.
GC: Someone from your organization is on eBay every day looking at all the clubs?
JR: That is correct.
GC: How many clubs are we talking about?
JR: In the span of a year, we took down 2,000 counterfeit listings. It’s not just clubs; it can be balls…
GC: Shoes, gloves…
JR: Yes. Clubs are a significant component because they’re a higher-priced item. But counterfeiters will counterfeit anything they can sell.
GC: You’re not looking at people selling used clubs?
JR: A little bit. A lot of counterfeiters may say, “This is a used piece of equipment,” but they’re just purporting it’s used so the price seems more reasonable or palatable.
GC: How can someone – looking at an eBay listing – determine if it’s counterfeit?
JR: There’s really no hard and fast way to tell. Sometimes a listing will show a photo of an actual product that the counterfeiter has taken from somewhere else and they may send you the false product. Our overarching message is: make sure you’re buying from authorized retailers. That doesn’t mean there aren’t places online where you can buy; there are online authorized retailers.
Our folks look for different things in those eBay listings: maybe where they’re shipping from … maybe the pictures are of the counterfeit products.
GC: Are there authorized retailers on eBay?
JR: I don’t think so. Each one of the manufacturers has a list of authorized retailers on their sites.
GC: When you guys find a counterfeit listing on eBay, you get in touch with eBay?
GC: How long does it take eBay to take action after you notify them?
JR: It all varies … to get down to the nuts and bolts of the process …
(banging the table)
GC: Yes! We want nuts and bolts! Golf Conversations readers want to know stuff like that!
JR: They react very quickly. Sometimes it’s the same day.
GC: Ok, now we’re getting somewhere!
GC: If a counterfeiter is selling, say, a new Callaway Rogue driver and he’s charging $500 for it … if it’s a piece of crap, the consumer is going to know immediately when the face breaks after a few drives. But if the counterfeiter actually makes a good driver and he’s charging a fairly high price for it, he gets away with it and the consumer is happy.
JR: I guess you’re trying to apply normal logic to this. A lot of these guys are fly-by-night … they’re not looking to build an ongoing business. They’re counterfeiting whatever is the hottest item at that time. Whatever they can charge a good amount for, they sell as many of them as possible, and then go away. They’re not thinking, “Let me get an ongoing customer in Robert.”
GC: In that Callaway Rogue scenario, would the counterfeiter try to lure customers by charging $400 and giving the suckers a bargain, or is he going to sell it for the going price of $500?
JR: There’s no rhyme or reason to it. One counterfeiter might sell it for $400 and people will think, “Oh, maybe that’s a discontinued model.” Or maybe they say, “I don’t really care.” There’s no consistency in the quality of the products and there’s not necessarily consistency in the strategy of the counterfeiters. If you could apply a logic or rationale to it, we’d be in a much better position.
GC: You said 90% of the counterfeit goods are coming from China?
GC: Can’t we get industrious Americans to do counterfeiting right here in the United States?
JR: I guess they could…
GC: I would think that you would need a pretty big operation to make these counterfeit clubs.
JR: You’d be surprised. It’s a lot of little operations. You envision a large manufacturing facility with a conveyor belt coming down and stamping out clubs. A lot of these times, they bang ‘em out in a garage…
GC: Hmmm, I have a garage…
JR: The volume they can do is amazing. There’s no quality control.
GC: How many counterfeit clubs are floating around out there?
JR: We estimate there’s about two million counterfeit clubs made on an annual basis.
JR: We’re definitely making an impact. Certainly the cooperation we’re getting from the Chinese government has increased exponentially.
GC: They are cooperating?
JR: Absolutely. I’m speculating but I think they’re realizing the counterfeiters are cannibalizing their real businesses. We’ve had some nice prosecutions where the counterfeiters are getting several years of jail time and significant fines in the tens of thousands of dollars.
GC: Jail time? Because China is such a bastion of democracy, wouldn’t it be easier just to take the counterfeiters out and shoot them?
JR: We’re operating within the confines of the civilized law.
GC: What else are they counterfeiting?
JR: Balls, apparel, belts, shirts, hats. If they can make money on something, they’ll counterfeit it.
GC: Obviously, this is extremely unfair to the companies that have spent millions of dollars building their brands, so I’m glad you guys are going after the counterfeiters.
JR: We’re shutting down hundreds of websites, confiscating literally millions of counterfeit products, and prosecuting counterfeiters abroad and here.
GC: What happens to the confiscated equipment?
JR: It’s destroyed. Our web site shows examples of “real vs. counterfeit.”
GC: The manufacturers who make up the group … does each one contribute an equal amount?
JR: I don’t want to get into the exact details but they’re all contributing a significant amount of money to fight the problem and work together.
GC: Have you been to China?
JR: I have not.
GC: It would be interesting for you to go there and go on a raid.
JR: It’s dangerous.
GC: Come on, Jason. Man up!
JR: I’ve got an eight-year-old and a twelve-year old. I don’t need to be playing A-Team.
GC: I’m disappointed in you.
Why are you wearing a Srixon shirt?
JR: Because one of their representatives gave it to me.
GC: How do you think Acushnet is going to feel when they see you in that shirt?
JR: My counterpart at the booth is wearing a Titleist shirt. And maybe tomorrow a Callaway and the next day a PING. We represent the brands equally.
GC: Next time think about getting me a shirt.
But I really think for you to do your job adequately, you should go on a raid. I’ll talk to your superiors.
JR: I’ll bring it up at the next meeting. And I’ll bring you with me!
GC: Jason, this has been very interesting. Keep up the good work.
JR: Thanks, Robert.