Will Rio miss the new gTLD race for the Olympics?

Stuart Fuller

Four years ago, the new gTLD program was still in the conception phase. Whilst the results of the application phase had been known for well over a year, security concerns and contractual delays meant that no new gTLDs had yet been launched. The talk of the town back in the summer of 2012 was the London Olympic Games and the slick multi-billion-dollar marketing campaign that made it the first real digital games. The huge global TV audiences plus the hundreds of millions socially engaging would have been perfect for the marketers, but it was too much too early for them. Although we can now register the likes of dotLondon, dotGames or dotRun at the click of a button, what impact could they have on the XXXI Olympiad taking place in Rio from 5th to 21st August 2016?

Whilst dotRio has been available to register for some time, tight restrictions on who can register in the gTLD have certainly stunted registration numbers. As of mid-July, it had 1,454 registrations – significantly behind the likes of DotLondon, dotParis, dotAmsterdam and even dotVlaanderen, which have less restrictive registration requirements. To register a dotRio domain name, you need a legal entity incorporated in Brazil, with a headquarters, brand or licensee located within the city of Rio de Janeiro and registered with the Finance Ministry. As an individual registrant, you’d also have to be registered with the Finance Ministry, with your official address in Rio logged. So unless you have that address and are on an official register with the government, you cannot own a dotRio domain name.
It’s quite disappointing that, given the huge opportunity to use a dotRio, the official website (www.rio2016.com) isn’t using a new gTLD. Although the name www.rio2016.rio is live, it simply points to a page at the registry’s website.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been a thorn in the side of ICANN for many years, searching for the kind of protection that other non-government organizations receive. This is one of the reasons why keywords such as ‘XXXIOlympiad’, ‘SummerOlympics’ and ‘OlympicGames’ have not been registered, and the IOC has also petitioned ICANN for a block on anyone applying to run dotOlympic(s) and dotOlympiad as new gTLDs.
Global events such as the Olympics are an intellectual property nightmare even with special protection measures in force, so it's important they have a strategy in place. The strict restrictions on the registration of dotRio domain names will rightly stop many of the profiteers infringing the IOC’s trademarks, but it could also dampen the Olympic spirit in using social media to share the stories of the games across the digital universe.

In September 2017, the IOC will meet in Lima, Peru, to determine the hosts of the 2024 games. At present, there are four cities in the running – Rome, Paris, Budapest and Los Angeles. Whoever’s chosen will have to find substantial funds to build or upgrade their facilities to host the 17-day event (longer if they’re also chosen to host the 11-day Paralympic Games as well). In a recent article published by Fortune Magazine, it was estimated that a successful bid from Los Angeles would cost in the region of $4.6 billion, and would make a modest profit of $160m. Any of the four cities only need to look at recent history to understand the huge financial burden. London 2012, whilst seen as the most successful in history in terms of marketing, PR and the spectacle, barely broke even (revenues of £2.41 billion versus costs of £2.38 billion), whilst Greece’s 2004 event left the country with crippling debts. The city of Rio has already had to go cap in hand to the central government for funds to be able to host the games, and forecasts are for a legacy of debt for the city.

The uncertainty surrounding who’ll host the 2024 games hasn’t stopped domain name speculators registering names though. In late 2015, the IOC flexed its digital-asset-protection muscle by filing a complaint against an organization called CityPure, which had registered scores of domain names that could potentially match Olympic bid or host cities, not only on the 2024 games but also future ones such as Rome2028.org. It also registered Toyko2020.org, which was seen as a clear infringement of the IOC’s intellectual property – although 2020Olympics.Tokyo is still registered behind the mask of a proxy registration. Closer to this year’s event, 2016olympics.com is still owned by proxy registrant, and a Mr Williamson in County Antrim still has rioolympics.com under his control.

The new gTLD program is crying out for major usage scenarios. The Summer Olympics is one of the most watched events globally, with huge marketing budgets spent by commercial partners and broadcasters alike. Whilst the existing registration restrictions on owning and using a dotRio are there for a clear purpose, those organizations involved in this summer’s games could have still made the decision to adopt the domain as the core of their digital strategy for the event, giving the whole gTLD program a huge boost in the process.