Anastasia Danias grew up watching the New York Jets battle rivals like the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. Today, as the chief litigation officer for the National Football League, she’s helping Gang Green and the league’s other 31 teams tackle a different kind of opponent — counterfeiters. Fourteen years ago, Danias left a promising position at Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP to pursue a career in the NFL’s legal division. After moving her way up through the ranks, she became a senior vice president and chief litigation officer for the league. While she’s involved in range of tough issues, such as personal injury lawsuits, protecting the league’s intellectual property is a priority — given the billions of dollars a year at stake in legitimate merchandise sales. In a sting leading up to the 2014 Super Bowl, the NFL worked with law enforcement to confiscate a record $21.6 million worth of counterfeit jerseys and other souvenirs.
Danias announced at the time that the league and law enforcement are continually “working hard to prevent fans from being scammed by criminals seeking to profit from the public’s passion for the NFL.” Despite her determination, Danias admits that the fight against IP infringement is truly a war of attrition. Since she joined the league, the production and dealing of counterfeit items has evolved from small time bootlegging into an “international industry,” she says.
FreeEnterprise.com spoke with Danias about the league’s game plan for defending its property going into the upcoming draft, why she made the switch to the sports world, and what it’s like to work in a male-dominated field.
The NFL is one of the most profitable brands in the world. How does such a large organization protect its assets?
The NFL has a multi-faceted approach to brand protection:
We provide outreach by educating fans and would be counterfeit artists that there are indeed penalties for distributing or buying unlicensed items.
We stay on top of our trademarks and copyrights for all of our teams to make sure there is never a lapse.
Also, we work very closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement to bring those who violate the copyrights to justice.
Does the draft present a special problem with copycat jerseys and other apparel, given all the hype over new stars entering the league?
Yes, the legitimate marketplace sets the standard for a surge in counterfeiting. If it’s in demand on NFL.com, it’s in demand on the counterfeit market.
Is it possible to eliminate — or at least significantly minimize — counterfeiting among so many teams, players, and product makers?
Counterfeiting is a crime, and it’s a very profitable and low-risk crime. I’m not sure that law enforcement is going to arrest their way out of counterfeiting. But we can make it more expensive and less enticing. We do that by educating consumers that it’s not without consequences to purchase counterfeited goods.
You were on the fast track at a prominent law firm. Why take the leap to the NFL?
Coming to the NFL was an incredible opportunity. The NFL was looking for someone with a resume that looked like mine. They were in need of a fairly junior level associate that worked in IP. It was simply a dream come true.
You’re a highly successful woman with a leadership role in a male-dominated sports league. Even in today’s day and age, does this produce any unique challenges?
One of the things that I value about this organization is that they manage and develop talent within the organization. I think that management styles differ from organization to organization, and this is one where performance, integrity, and teamwork are all valued in way that gender is just irrelevant.
What’s your message to the next generation of young men and women that are interested in getting into the business of sports?
I think it is a wonderful and exciting field — it’s ever growing. The advice that I would give to young women or young men that are interested in getting into the business side of sports is to find the niche that you like the most. Pick the field within sports that you love and you want to do well in.