The National Football League blitzed the vendors selling Super Bowl souvenirs yesterday, asking a federal judge to stop the hawking of "bootleg merchandise" not licensed by the league.
Two legal linebackers from the law firm of Redskins partner Edward Bennett Williams charged into U.S. District Court here and applied for a temporary restraining order to shut down the sales of unofficial NFL T-shirts, hats and other memorabilia.
The league, which makes about $13 million a year licensing souvenir makers, asked the court to intercept the unlicensed merchandise before it falls into the hands of sports fans.
Judge Charles R. Richey will tackle the issue today.
Defendants in the lawsuit are a Connecticut shirt-maker, Hamden Screenprint, and vendors John Coniglio, Colleen Fox and "various John Does and Jane Does and ABC Companies" that are making and selling Super Bowl items without the permission of National Football League Properties Inc.
As evidence of what it called "professional infringement," the league said Coniglio came to Washington from Connecticut and was selling unlicensed sweatshirts and T-shirts on Monday at 17th and I streets NW. Fox, the league claimed, came here from New Orleans and committed the same infraction.
Russ Loller, manager of Hamden Screenprint, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying, "We don't know what it's all about." The company has never been involved in a dispute with NFL Properties, Loller said. Neither Coniglio nor Fox is a company employe, he added.
Coniglio and Fox could not be reached for comment.
Super Bowl sweatshirts, jerseys and T-shirts--many of them lacking the NFL trademark--were being hawked yesterday on Washington streets by vendors who said they had traveled here from Connecticut. The shirts, priced from $8 to $15, display such slogans as, "I'm Hog Wild Over Washington."
"Obviously there's a lot of bootlegging that goes on," said Scott Borowsky, president of the Philadelphia-based Souvenir and Novelty Trade Association. "Some get caught and some don't. It's a fast dollar."
"Hog shirts, hog buttons, hog things are hot," boasted one K Street NW vendor, who said his sales for the day amounted to almost $1,000. "Connecticut is where they make all the shirts. We had them all shipped down by plane."
In contrast to the bootlegged shirts, most Super Bowl pennants, hats and programs on sale here appeared to carry the NFL license. Vendors said these are more difficult to obtain from unlicensed dealers than are shirts, which may be produced quickly and cheaply by any silk-screening firm.
"A silk screener can turn out 60 dozen shirts an hour," said one vendor who said he came here with a group from New Haven, Conn. "The vendor business in D.C. has got to be worth $250,000 to $600,000. If they win, you could add on another $1 million."
The NFL holds the rights to make any merchandise using the name or symbols of NFL teams or the league itself, its lawyers contend. Even the word Super Bowl belongs to the NFL and can be used only with permission.
NFL Properties charges 6 1/2 percent of the wholesale price for the right to put its emblems on items ranging from bicycles and baby bibs to underwear and cocktail glasses.
Bob Carey, president of NFL Properties, could not be reached yesterday for comment, but he has previously said the nonprofit organization's income is about $13 million a year. Some $300,000 of that is used to finance copyright infringement lawsuits against firms that improperly distribute products bearing NFL insignia, Carey said.
According to the suit, a "substantial portion" of the money earned by NFL Properties in royalty payments from manufacturers is turned over to NFL Charities, which provides funds for retired players, medical research and drug abuse programs.
In 1980 NFL charities gave grants of $597,000, including $100,000 to the Vincent Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University. The remainder of the money after expenses goes to the league and to its teams.
The suit calls Coniglio, Fox and other alleged illegal street hawkers "Super Bowl infringers" and asks Richey to order marshals to seize the goods because many vendors are transients, roaming from event to event, printing and distributing memorabilia without obtaining licenses.
The only "effective means to deal with the serious problem created by the Super Bowl infringers is to seize and impound their bootleg merchandise at the point of sale," NFL Properties said in the suit.
Lawyer Lawrence Lucchino of Williams & Connolly, which handles legal matters for the Redskins, said he expects similar suits to be filed in Miami and in Pasadena, site of the Super Bowl.