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.CLUB CEO on selling to GoDaddy, Clubhouse, and .club’s “twerking moment”

.CLUB Domains CEO Colin Campbell says he’s planning to continue to promote the .club gTLD long after its acquisition by GoDaddy Registry, announced earlier today, closes.

The deal was one of several announced last night by GoDaddy, the highlight being the $120 million purchase of MMX’s portfolio of 28 gTLD contracts.

While the price of the .club deal was not disclosed, Campbell confirmed that it’s a contract reassignment rather than a purchase of the company. He’s not expecting any ICANN regulatory friction, pointing out that .club is relatively small fry in the grand scheme of things.

But .club is arguably one of the success stories of the new gTLD program.

It currently stands at over a million domains under management, recently boosted by the launch of the third-party audio conferencing app Clubhouse, which has driven demand.

“I think Clubhouse was the twerking moment for .club,” Campbell said. “It’s the moment everyone realized — holy shit this is the best domain on the market to start a community, to start a club.”

“Our volume of premium domains went up 700% in January,” he said. “We exploded.”

I understand a “twerking moment” to be a nodal point in a business’s performance so sensational that one feels obliged to stand up at one’s desk and “twerk“. I’d rather not think about it too much, to be honest.

Campbell said the volume decline .club was experiencing prior to Clubhouse launching — its zone file shrank by 200,000 names in 2020 — is misleading as a metric of measuring growth.

“We’ve always been growing,” he said. “What we’ve been doing the last few years is raising prices for the first year, so our quality of registrations is higher now than it’s ever been. Volume’s a joke… what we’re talking about is real registrations, real users. It’s all about usage.”

He was ambivalent on whether the GoDaddy deal would have happened without the Clubhouse boost.

“.club was growing very fast with real usage,” he said. “Clubhouse had nothing to do with this — in my opinion — but who knows, you’d have to ask GoDaddy.”

It seems .CLUB Domains the company will wind up eventually, but Campbell said it will continue to promote the TLD even after the deal closes in a few months.

“I will never stop supporting .club, this is part of my DNA,” Campbell said. Pressed, he said that the company will continue to operate until at least the end of the year.

But why sell his baby? Campbell said “.club was never for sale”, so it appears GoDaddy reached out to .CLUB first. But Campbell sees GoDaddy as a safe pair of hands.

“The people that run GoDaddy Registry are Nicolai [Bezsonoff], and Lori Anne [Wardi], who were the co-founders of .co and they’ve done a good job of promoting .co and I really believe that can promote .club in a similar way,” Campbell said.

GoDaddy buys 30 new gTLDs for over $120 million

GoDaddy Registry has just announced it is acquiring 28 new gTLDs from rival MMX, along with the TLDs .club and .design.

The MMX deal is worth at least $120 million; the value of the other two deals was not disclosed.

GoDaddy is also taking over the back-ends for .rugby and .basketball, which had been contracted to MMX, and said it has won the back-end deal for the dot-brand, .ally.

It’s the most significant pieces of registry consolidation since Donuts and Afilias hooked up in December.

GoDaddy Registry will wind up being the contract holder or back-end for over 240 TLDs, with over 14 million domains under management, the company said.

It’s not entirely clear which gTLDs GoDaddy is acquiring right now, but it appears to be all of those listed on the MMX web site.

It’s currently listed by IANA as the sponsor for 21 gTLDs: .cooking, .fishing, .horse, .miami, .rodeo, .vodka, .beer, .luxe, .surf, .nrw, .work, .budapest, .casa, .abogado, .wedding, .yoga, .fashion, .garden, .fit, .vip and .dds.

MMX subsidiary ICM Registry runs .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex, not an easy fit with the family-friendly image GoDaddy has attempted to cultivate in recent years.

MMX also manages geographic gTLDs .boston, .london and .bayern on behalf of their respective local governments.

The company hinted in January that it was considering selling off some of its under-performing registries, after a crappy 2020 that saw it forced to restate revenues, lay off staff and can its top executives.

MMX, which is publicly traded in London, has yet to make a statement on the deal but we should no doubt expect something in the morning before the markets open.

The deal appears to be bad news for Nominet, which runs the back-end for most MMX gTLDs. GoDaddy will very likely migrate them over to its own platform eventually.

MMX aside, GoDaddy is also buying .club from .CLUB Domains, according to its press release.

.CLUB is a bit of a rarity — a single-string new gTLD registry that done really rather well for itself without tarnishing its brand by becoming synonymous with cheap domains and spam.

.design, the other GoDaddy acquisition today, is run by Top Level Design, which also runs .ink, .wiki and .gay.

.design has over 120,000 domains in its zone file today, while .club has over 1 million. Both have been on a growth trajectory recently.

GoDaddy also said as part of the same announcement that it has signed Ally Financial’s dot-brand business for .ally, but as Ally was already a client of Neustar (which GoDaddy owns) I’m not entirely sure what it’s getting excited about.

RobinHood.club showered with five-star reviews after .com confusion

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Gossip

In a world where it’s still common for internet users to automatically assume companies use the .com version of their brand, instead of a new gTLD, it’s sometimes refreshing to see the opposite scenario occur.

It was a mixed blessing for a German price comparison app developer, which found itself confused with an American stock-trading app of the same name this week.

The company, which uses robinhood.club as its primary domain, received a handful of negative, one-star reviews on the Google app store, apparently from people who confused it with the scandal-hit trading app, which can be found at robinhood.com.

The American RobinHood was of course the app of choice for the Reddit users who last week clubbed together to pump the stock of floundering bricks-and-mortar games retailer GameStop, in order to frustrate the plans of big short-selling hedge funds and in many cases make some healthy profits screwing over The Man.

When RobinHood limited trading of GameStop and other stocks, it faced accusations of siding with billionaire Wall Street pros at the expense of armchair investors, and the unaffiliated German app maker seems to have taken some of the overspill of this criticism.

robinghood play store

But the negative impact was short-lived. When news of the confusion filtered back to Reddit, hundreds of users — who presumably had never used the app — flooded to the store to leave five-star reviews to counteract the one-stars.

robin hood

At time of writing, every review appears to be related in one way or the other to the stock-trading scandal, and the German app holds an average rating of over four stars.

.club back over a million names as Clubhouse drives growth

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

The .club gTLD’s zone file is back into seven figures as of last week, largely due no doubt to the increasing popularity of the new Clubhouse app.

As of yesterday, 1,005,145 domains could be found in the .club file, up from a recent low of 960,000 in early January.

The Clubhouse app, unaffiliated with .CLUB Domains, launched in April last year but started gathering mainstream media attention in mid-January, prompting a flurry of speculation in .club names. From what I gather, it’s an audio chatroom service.

It’s currently invitation-only, and only available on Apple’s iOS devices, which limits it reach. One assumes there could be upside potential for .club when the app fully opens up.

.club peaked at about 1.25 million domains in late 2019.

Amid .club boom, one AV vendor is blocking the whole damn TLD

Kevin Murphy, January 27, 2021, Domain Registries

.club may be experiencing a mini-boom in sales due to the popular new Clubhouse app, but one antivirus vendor has reportedly decided to block the entire TLD.

According to Forbes, the free MalwareBytes Browser Guard plug-in will warn users attempting to visit .club sites that it’s a “suspicious top-level domain”, adding that .club is “frequently used by scam or phishing sites, but can be used by legitimate websites as well”.

Users can click through to dismiss the warning and visit the site if they choose.

It seems a lot like overkill or an algorithmic glitch to me — .club has never been a particularly malware-friendly TLD. According to SpamHaus, only 0.9% of the .club domains that it’s seen in the wild could be considered “bad”.

After a disappointing second half of 2020, which saw about 300,000 domains disappear from its zone file, .club has seen a bit of a recovery in the last two weeks, largely due to a popular new audio social media app called Clubhouse.

Since the app started getting media attention earlier this month, .club has become the latest TLD hit by domain investor speculation with .CLUB Domains CEO Colin Campbell describing sales on January 15 as “absolute pandemonium”.

While .club has added about 30,000 domains to its zone since then, it’s not yet enough to counteract last year’s decline in volume. Luckily for .CLUB, many of its sales have been of premium-priced names.

It’s unlikely that these latest registrations are related to the MalwareBytes block.

.CLUB lowers premium prices to sell through registrars

.CLUB Domains has lowered the price of many of its reserved “premium” domain names in order to make them more easily available via the registrar channel, the company announced today.

Dozens of names previously priced above $20,000, and therefore only available via brokers, have been reduced to between $10,000 and $19,000, according to chief marketing officer Jeff Sass.

The company’s EPP system has tiered pricing and the top tier is $20,000, so registrars are not able to directly sell higher-priced names.

Sass said some of the repriced names include nyc.club, travellers.club, delivery.club, biking.club, fun.club, growth.club and home.club.

.CLUB to let brands block “trillions” of domains for $2,000

.CLUB Domains has launched a service for trademark owners that will enable them to block an essentially infinite number of potential cybersquats for a $2,000 payment every three years.

But the restrictions in place to avoid false positives mean that some of the world’s most recognizable brands would not be eligible to use it.

The service is called Trademark Sentry. In February, .CLUB asked ICANN for approval to launch it under the name Unlimited Name Blocking Service.

It’s cast by the registry roughly as a kind of clone of Donuts’ five-year-old Domain Protected Marks List, which enables brands to block their marks across Donuts’ entire portfolio of 242 gTLDs for far less than they would pay defensively registering 242 domains individually.

But while Donuts has a massive stable of TLDs, .CLUB is a one-horse town, so what’s going on?

Based on promotional materials .CLUB sent me, it appears that Trademark Sentry is primarily a way to reduce not defensive registration costs but rather UDRP costs.

Instead of blocking a single trademarked string across a broad portfolio of TLDs — for example google.ninja, google.bike, google.guru, google.charity… — the .CLUB service allows brands to block any domain that contains that string in a single TLD.

For example, Google could pay .CLUB $2,000, and for the next three years it would be impossible for anyone to register any .club domain that contained the substring “google”.

Any potential cybersquatter who went to a registrar and tried to register domains such as “mygooglesearch.club” or “googlefootball.club” or “bestgoogle.club” or “xreegtegooglefwrreed.club” would be told by the registrar that the domain was unavailable.

It would be blocked at the registry level, because it contained the blocked string “google”.

Customers will be able to add typos to the blocklist for a 50% discount.

To the best of my knowledge, this is not a service currently offered by any other gTLD registry.

It’s precisely the kind of thing that the IP lobby at ICANN was crying out for — albeit without the obligation to pay for it — prior to the 2012 application round.

.CLUB reckons it’s a money-saver for brand owners who find themselves filing lots of UDRP complaints.

UDRP complaints cost at least $1,500, just for the filing fees with outfits such as WIPO. They can cost many hundreds more in lawyers fees.

Basically, if you expect your brand will be hit by at least one UDRP in .club in the next three years, $2,000 might look like a decent investment.

.club domains have been subject to 279 UDRP complaints over the last five years, according to UDRPSearch.com.

But .CLUB has put in place a number of restrictions that are likely to seriously restrict its potential customer base.

First, the trademark will have to be “fanciful”. The registry says:

To qualify for Unlimited Name Blocking a trademark must be fanciful as defined by the USPTO and meet the .CLUB Registry’s additional requirements and subject to the .CLUB Registry‚Äôs discretion. Marks that are not fanciful but when combined with another word become sufficiently unique may be allowed.

“Apple” would not be permitted, but “AppleComputer” might be.

.CLUB told me that any trademark that, if blocked, would prevent non-infringing uses of the string would also not qualify for the service.

If you look at a UDRP-happy brand like Lego, which has already filed several complaints about alleged cybersquats in .club, it would certainly not qualify. Too many words end in “le” and begin with “go” for .CLUB to block every domain containing “lego”.

Similarly, Facebook would likely not qualify because one can imagine non-infringing uses such as facetofacebookmakers.club. Twitter is a dictionary word, as is Coke. Pepsi is a substring of dyspepsia. Amazon is primarily a geographic term. McDonald’s is derived from a common surname, as are Cartier and Heinz.

For at least half of the famous brands that pop into my head, I can think of a reason they will probably not be allowed to use this service.

.CLUB also won’t allow trademarks shorter than five characters.

Still, for those brands that do qualify, and do have an aggressive UDRP-based enforcement policy, the service seems to be priced at a point where an ROI case can be made.

Like Donuts’ DPML domains, anything blocked under Trademark Sentry is not going to show up in zone files, so we’re not going to have any objective data with which to monitor its success.

.CLUB announces three years of price increases

Kevin Murphy, January 15, 2019, Domain Registries

.CLUB Domains is to increase its wholesale registry fees by $1.90 over the next three years.

The company announced that the increases for .club names will come on July 1 this year, next year, and in 2021.

The current price is $8.05 per domain per year. This will go up to $8.95, then $9.45, then $9.95.

They’re the first price changes .CLUB has implemented, other than discounts, since its launch in 2014.

The gTLD had almost 1.5 million names under management at the last public count, and has about 1.16 million names in its zone file today.

It saw a growth surge in the second half of 2018 due to aggressive discounting in China — with AliBaba selling new names for as little as $0.44 — which led to a corresponding increase in abuse.

.CLUB is a rare example of a private TLD operator that is fairly open about its financials.

.CLUB sees spam double after China promotion

Kevin Murphy, September 11, 2018, Domain Registries

.CLUB Domains has seen the amount of spam in .club double a month after seeing a huge registration spike prompted by a deep discount deal.

The registry saw its domains under management go up by about 200,000 names over a few days in early August, largely as a result of a promotion at Chinese registrar AliBaba.

AliBaba sold .club domains for CNY 3 ($0.44) during the promotion, helping it overtake GoDaddy as the top .club registrar.

At that time, spam tracker SpamHaus was reporting that 17.9% of the .club domains it was seeing in the wild were being used in spam.

SpamHaus statToday, that number is 35.4%, almost double the August 7 level. SpamHaus does not publish the actual number of spammy domains for .club; that honor is only bestowed upon the top 10 “bad” TLDs.

Correlation does not equal causation, of course. There could be factors other than the AliBaba promotion that contributed to the increase, but I believe there’s probably a link here.

.CLUB chief marketing officer Jeff Sass told DI:

When registrars have domains “on sale”, there is always the chance that low-cost domains will be attractive to abusers. We monitor abuse proactively, and respond promptly to complaints, as well as monitor our registrar partners collectively and individually.

It’s almost certainly unfair of me to single out fluctuations in .club here, rather than take a comparative look at multiple TLDs. There are certainly many worse TLDs per SpamHaus’ statistics — .men leads among the gTLDs, with 87.2% spam.

But, given the industry truism that cheaper domains leads to more abuse, I think such a large increase correlating with such a successful promotion is a useful data point.

.CLUB revenue not all that

Kevin Murphy, August 21, 2018, Domain Registries

.CLUB Domains may be one of the 5000 fastest-growing companies in the US, according to Inc magazine, but it’s returning the majority of its revenue back to its registrars.

CEO Colin Campbell revealed this week that the company returns almost 70% of its gross revenue in the form of rebates.

The revelation came in an interview with Domain Name Wire on its latest podcast.

Campbell told Andrew Allemann that in 2017 .CLUB had $9.3 million in what he called “cash flow” or “gross revenue”.

But “net cash” or “net revenue”, after rebates was just $2.8 million, meaning $6.5 million was returned to registrars via promotions.

The interview came a few days after Inc named the company 1164th in its 2018 list of fastest-growing US companies.

Inc had .CLUB’s revenue at $7.2 million, but that appears to have been calculated using the usual accounting standards of deferring revenue into future periods over the lifetime of the domain subscription.

.club has something like 1.4 million names under management.

Campbell said that the company is “adding about a million dollars of net revenue per year” and he predicted 2018 gross cash to come in at $10.5 million and net to come in at $3.7 million.

That’s a net revenue figure, remember, not a profit or net income line. Campbell said he’s more interested in growing the business rather than paying taxes on profits.

The aggressive rebating seems to have a focus in China, where it has regular deals with the likes of Alibaba (which was .club’s biggest registrar with 20% of the market at the last count) and West.cn.

While .CLUB is private, Campbell has been frank about its performance in the past.

The DNW interview follows DI’s interview with Campbell on more or less the same topic last September, and DNW’s in 2016.

It’s a good podcast, you should have a listen.