Sports organizations need to think about protecting their domains

Sporting brands - fraudulent domains leading to fake website and counterfeited sports merchandise that affects brand revenue and profits...

Summer has arrived in the northern hemisphere and major sporting events are underway. The French Open and Wimbledon in tennis, The Ashes in cricket, the Formula One circus is making its way around Europe and the Tour de France is currently underway.

Sports brands though are no different to any other business, and sporting bodies, events, athletes and products all need to be proactive in protecting their brands. They have also all been involved in disputing domain names registered to other parties that they believed have infringed on their brands.

The World Property Organization’s (WIPO) Arbitration and Mediation Center, which runs the largest of the two main domain name dispute resolution services (the other is the National Arbitration Forum), said that “the more popular the sport, the more frequently it is the target of cybersquatters”.

Basketball, American football, golf, football (soccer), Formula One motor racing and hockey are at the top of the target list according to WIPO. Major sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, the Volvo Ocean Race, the UEFA Champions League and the Olympic Games, are also popular targets says WIPO.

Sports only accounted for about one percent of the 2884 cybersquatting cases covering 5,084 domain names filed in 2012, but this is still a significant number considering the popularity of sports in general in the public arena. Event organizers and sporting bodies, as well as individual athletes, need to think about a digital protection strategy  that incorporates  domain name registrations in line with business operations and corporate objective. This includes taking action around monitoring  what domain names are registered online that could be linked to brand infringement.

WIPO notes that disputes over domain names relating to sporting events often start long before the actual events take place.  As brands not only need to worry about squatted domains, but also fraudsters that jump on brand reputations to make a quick buck out of misspelt or associated domains that lead to fake sites. These sites often promote counterfeited brand sporting goods that further deteriorate brand revenues from merchandise sales. In 2008, WIPO had already seen disputes pertaining to the 2010 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup and the 2012 PGA (Professional Golfers Association) Championship. Other cases involved the names of competitions such as the Premier League, the Orange Bowl, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Final Four and the London Marathon. Among sports authorities, cases have been filed by the National Football League (NFL), National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and UEFA.

Many of the sports-related complaints, WIPO notes, are filed by event organizers, while others are filed by participating sports teams such as football clubs; AFC Ajax (Amsterdam, Netherlands), Panathinaikos (Athens, Greece), Juventus (Turin, Italy), Real Madrid (Spain), Galatasaray (Istanbul, Turkey) and Schalke 04 (Gelsenkirchen, Germany), and also basketball’s New York Knicks and American football’s Carolina Panthers.

Among individual athletes who have also been involved in lodging disputes are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lance Armstrong, and Wayne Rooney. WIPO has also processed cases relating to venues, such as Madison Square Garden in New York and Wembley Stadium in London as well as trademarked products of sporting goods manufacturers such as Nike, Adidas, Oakley, Speedo and Converse.

18 July 2013


Keep your brands safe online:

NetNames Free Brand Audit