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Are You Ready For The ESPNTulsa.com Launch? (Sports Media Best Practices)

Monday, January 11, 2010 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 2:35 PM, under , ,

Now that ESPN has rolled out its new local sports sites in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Boston, people are wondering what city will be next. Will it be Atlanta or New York or Miami? Well how about Tulsa? Why not, since ESPN owns the ESPNTulsa.com domain name? But let's not jump so quickly in shock, disbelief or dismay. ESPN owns the rights to at least 770 other domains. And there are some cities they do NOT own the rights to.

What ESPN is smartly doing is spending a few dollars each on domain names attached to as many cities as they can. This is called protecting their brand as the slowly decide which cities or metropolitan areas to include in the rollout of new web sites. This is a process they started back before they announced the new ESPNLocal.com initiative.

A sampling of some of the domain names they own, but that are not active, includes:

ESPNTulsa.com (registered March 13, 2009
ESPNDetroit.com (registered June 15, 2007)
ESPNAtlanta.com (registered January 16, 2009)
ESPNHouston.com (registered June 3, 2009
ESPNTampa.com (registered January 16, 2009)

But what about ESPNMiami.com? Don't they own that?

They do now, but only after threatening litigation against a CyberSquatter in order to get right ownership of the domain that included the ESPN brand. As reported on Sports by Brooks on December 22, 2009:

...has ESPN actually tipped its hand about having interest in the online Miami market?
As of just over a month ago, the ESPNMiami.com domain name was still up for sale by a woman named Marielena Abruna. Abruna made her intentions known on at least one site, inviting visitors to “make offer”.

I contacted Bruna to see if ESPN had contacted here, and not surprisingly, she said yes.

In another not-so-shocking revelation, Bruna, who owns 328 other domains (!), said that ESPN’s contact was a demand that she transfer the domain to the network - per cybersquatting laws.
ESPN already contacted me. They sent me a certified letter. It was mainly legal stuff about cybersquatting etc.. Infringement. I had to release the name to them otherwise they were going to proceed with legal action. I do not know if what they did was legal, but I signed the form.
It does not indicate what the site was going to be used for.
I consulted two cybersquatting legal experts and they concurred that ESPN had every right to demand transfer of the domain name after paying registration and transfer costs.

Eye on Sports Media Editor's Note: Marielena Abruna posted a response on SBB that said:

"I started buying geo domain names about 2 years ago. I owe few more like ESPNMiami.com and .net I do agree that ESPN can demand the transfer of the name but why are the registrars allowing their members to buy name like this one for example, without a warning? Many sites do not even allow you to park domain names that can have this type of issues. I blame the registrars. Do not blame me."

Umm, nice try. She knew what she was doing as does not want to accept responsibility.


Notice that last line before you start calling ESPN a bully. They acted within their legal rights to protect their brand. CyberSquatting is a serious problem for businesses. For example, all CBS Sports domains are managed, as part of an overall CBS package, by a company named MarkMonitor, a company that sells services to protect a company's brand online.

So what are some ESPN related domains that appear to be owned by other entities with legitimate business purposes, or possibly by CyberSquatters, that resolve to ad farms?

ESPNBuffalo.com (owned by Portland based PR firm Wieden+Kennedy)

ESPNNewYorkCity.com (owned by a gentleman from Syracuse, NY named Dennis Normyle)
ESPNTampaBay.com (owned by a gentleman from Lee Diekemper from St Petersburg, FL)

Now there are some legitimate ESPN-related domain owners outside of ESPN, such as ESPNColumbus.com, owned by Columbus (OH) newspaper The Columbus Dispatch. But their is no reason that espnoklahomacity.com should be owned by a gentleman associated with a web site pushing credit card information.

The Lesson Learned?

If you and/or your organization are looking to launch some online initiatives that require new domain names, make sure you include the possible domain named in your strategy development and go oput and buy them BEFORE any public announcements. It will be a lot cheaper than litigation.

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