FAKE, fake, real, fake, real, fake, real, real, fake.
That's what's going through the minds of authentic hockey jersey connoisseurs as they walk through the concourse of the MTS Centre or sports bars during Winnipeg Jets games. League-approved jerseys have been flying off the shelves since they first became available back in September but counterfeit knock-offs have been big sellers, too -- even before the real ones were officially unveiled -- as fraudsters import them and sell them at a deep discount.
"You see the fakes all over the place," said Randy Tesluck, manager of Royal Sports on Pembina Highway. "I don't know if just anyone can notice them but anybody in our business definitely can. We can spot them a mile away."
So, what's the difference? If you were to stand in front of a mirror at home wearing a knock-off jersey, chances are you'd think you look pretty sharp.
But if your buddy stood beside you wearing the real McCoy, you'd immediately get an inferiority complex, experts say.
The fakes have a variety of telltale signs they're cheap imitations. The logos tend to be smaller, the colours are off, the material for the numbers on the back gives off a glare, the font for the numbers is different, the fight strap is small, the embroidery and stitching can be rough and jagged, trademark names can be misspelled and the fabric used is considerably lighter.
Zak Rubin, regional general manager of River City Sports, said there's no question the sheer number of counterfeit jerseys in the market is affecting the bottom lines of all sporting goods retailers. His staff members, however, are increasingly selling authentic jerseys to customers who want to replace their counterfeit ones.
"We're starting to see more people realizing that the fake ones are horrible and they're embarrassed to wear them. They're coming to us saying, 'I want the real thing,' " he said.
The trouble for both the authorities and retailers is that each successive generation of the knock-off jerseys gets better.
"The jerseys we seized initially were fairly rough," said RCMP spokesman Sgt. Miles Hiebert. "The later ones became more sophisticated and more accurate representations of the real jerseys."
Over the past three months, the RCMP have seized two batches of fake jerseys, 40 in August and 190 in October.
Even the untrained eye can pick out perhaps the most obvious sign of fakery -- the price. The on-ice jerseys retail for about $300 -- getting a number and name stitched on is extra -- while "replica" jerseys sell for about $129.
"If someone is offering to sell you an NHL jersey for $50, you can be pretty confident it's counterfeit," Hiebert said.
The fakes can also be distinguished by how they're sold -- predominantly online but they've also been peddled out of the back of people's cars or in beer-league hockey dressing rooms. Some Internet retailers market the jerseys with a picture of a real one on their site but mail out counterfeits to their customers.
Hiebert said most hockey fans who are buying counterfeit jerseys are simply trying to get the best deal possible to support their team. Ironically, however, they're not only taking money out of the tills of local retailers and manufacturers, they're supporting criminal organizations.
"Counterfeiting is an illegal activity," he said.
"The fines for this kind of offence can be as high as $50,000."
A spokesperson from the Winnipeg Jets was not available for comment.