Collector's edition DNA technology used to verify Super Bowl balls

By Jeff Houck Fox

A warning to counterfeiters: Don’t try to pass fake footballs off as if they came from the Super Bowl.

The NFL has tapped Collectors Universe, Inc. to authenticate all of the 120 footballs used in Super Bowl XXXV with the company’s DNA authenticating liquid.

PSA/DNA Authentication Services, a division of Collectors Universe, will issue a serialized certificate of authenticity with information about each ball, which will then be entered into a database to ensure authenticity. The authenticity of the items can then be verified online at the company’s Web site (

Game-used footballs are extremely valuable collectors items, said Don Renzulli, NFL director of special events.

The league will donate some of the footballs to various charities and offer some for sale on the NFL auction site on eBay, Renzulli said. “The owners of these highly prized collectibles will have a piece of football history and the peace of mind of knowing that their collectible is 100 percent genuine and guaranteed for life,” he said.

PSA/DNA has authenticated such historically important sports items as Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball and Hank Aaron’s 715th home run ball and bat. The company’s DNA identification technique was used to authenticate the balls in last year’s NFL Super Bowl as well. The company is the “Official Grading Service” of the National Sports Collectors Convention and maintains authentication sites with eBay, Yahoo! and other online commerce and content sites.

Confidence in the authenticity of collectibles is the topic du jour in the sports industry these days, what with federal estimates that up to 90 percent of all sports memorabilia might be counterfeit.

Two weeks ago Major League Baseball signed a two-year deal with accounting firm Arthur Andersen LLP to authenticate autographs and baseball memorabilia.

Representatives of Arthur Andersen will go to about 200 games this season. The selected games will have some sort of “milestone” quality, whether it’s a player reaching 3,000 hits or the first game played in a new stadium.

The representatives will immediately attach a hologram sticker containing a nine-digit serial number to items used in the game, such as bats, balls and jerseys. Those items will then be listed on baseball’s Web site,, for potential buyers to check.

Andersen also affixes synthetic DNA, which can be viewed only by a certain frequency of laser, to memorabilia. It then stamps the item and provides a certificate of authenticity.

Even the furry mascots of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney as well as an avalanche of caps, T-shirts, mugs, pins and other official Olympics merchandise are being tagged with invisible ink containing DNA strands from an unidentified Australian athlete.

The International Olympic Committee was trying to thwart sophisticated forgers who were trying to get a piece of the $389-million market for Olympics keepsakes. With DNA-laced ink applied to some 50 million individual items, it was the largest deployment ever of DNA as a security device.

Detail-oriented counterfeiters copy everything from tags to sewn-in labels and packaging. Bootleggers have even learned how to duplicate hologram stickers.

“That is where the DNA comes into its own as being the absolutely foolproof, sure way to determine if something is fake,” said Catherine McGill, legal counsel and brand protection manager for the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games.

“I believe it’s going to give a lot of people a lot of confidence,” said Steve Rocchi, president of PSA of Newport Beach.

“It’s going to stimulate the collectible industry because now they’re not going to get duped,” Rocchi said. “When they liquidate, they want to get fair-market value. If they can’t prove it’s real, they won’t.”