Featured in “Doing Away with Foul Play in Sports Marketing” by the CMO Council
The CMO Council’s Doing Away With Foul Play in Sports Marketing research campaign reveals many interesting details about the challenges sports marketers face. According to 26 percent of survey respondents, one of the biggest threats to sports brands is online brand hijacking. However, 25 percent of participants reported that they do not have any sort of plan for protecting their brands in digital media, and 26 percent do not participate in any brand protection programs at all.
While it is not the only component of a digital strategy, developing an effective domain name strategy is an efficient and cost effective way for businesses across all industries to promote and protect their brands in the online space. With digital media playing an increasingly large role in the lives of fans and consumers, it is more important than ever for brands to make sure they own their turf online. It boils down to the issue of findability: Consumers are looking to reach and interact with brands online, and so brands must position themselves where those consumers can find them. Even for those companies that do not engage in any brand protection – in digital media or at all – owning and leveraging a thorough, productive set of branded domain names is a straightforward and relatively low-cost way to get in the game.
Cybersquatting is the act of registering domain names, especially those identical or confusingly similar to trademarks, with the intention of profiting from them in bad faith. It can lead not only to confusion and a poor experience for Internet users, but to exposure to malware or sypware that can infect a computer in split seconds. Cybersquatting can also give apparent legitimacy to a site passing off counterfeit products for genuine ones. As a result, the practice can result in brand dilution and loss of sales for businesses.
The Internet has become a major commercial venue for many industries, including sports tickets and apparel sales. Cybersquatted domain names can sometimes host sites that sell counterfeit merchandise or illegitimate tickets. By proactively registering a comprehensive portfolio of domain names and pursuing infringing domain names owned by ill-intentioned third parties, brands can get out ahead of bad actors and prevent brand hijacking. But since it is impossible and impractical to register every conceivable domain name, it is smart to analyze, measure and plan before taking action.
A great example of recovering a highly useful domain name from a third party is MLB Advanced Media’s (MLBAM) acquisition of angels.com. MLBAM owns the domain names of almost all of major league baseball teams, but until this summer, angels.com belonged to a man in Seoul, Korea. When the owner put the domain up for auction, MLBAM jumped in and purchased it. Now, fans have a simple, easy to remember destination to find information, tickets, and merchandise for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: angels.com.
Currently, the domain space offers extensive opportunities for sports marketers to both protect and promote their brands. However, within the next year, the space is expected to expand to include an unlimited number of top level domains (TLDs), or the extensions that come at the end of web addresses, such as .COM and .FR. Soon, any organization or individual will be able to apply for any extension, creating the possible new domain names such as celtics.nba or soccer.adidas. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for developing this controversial plan.
Both branded TLDs like .adidas and generic TLDs like .football will present very interesting marketing opportunities for sports brands. Because an organization that owns a TLD will be responsible for running its registry, it will be able to control which domains are registered in that TLD. Therefore, if a company obtains a branded TLD, or multiple branded TLDs, it will largely be able to control the messaging around its brands in this new space. In the current domain name space, any entity can register a domain containing a brand name. But when brands operate their own TLDs in the future, they will be able to restrict registrations in ways that will help them avoid infringement and exploitation from cybersquatting.
Owning a TLD does not insulate a brand or its audience from harm. In fact, there is an active ongoing controversy over demand for new extensions and organizations such as the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA), a non-profit that FairWinds helped form and operate. CADNA works with governments around the world to determine if ICANN’s new TLD policy is worth the many risks with which it is associated.
Of course, not all brands will choose to operate their own TLD. In that case, there are still myriad opportunities to register interesting domain names in other new extensions to reach consumers in new places. For example, if some organization or individual applies for .TICKETS, then sports leagues may consider registering domain names like nhl.tickets or capitals.tickets. As the official place to purchase game tickets, they may help boost sales if they market those domains effectively.
New TLDs will also include a certain degree of risk, however. As in the current domain name space, brands will have to be responsible for protecting themselves against infringement. The best way for brands to do this is to defensively register the most qualified domain names across key TLDs, always keeping in mind where Internet users will be looking to find them.
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