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Fight over new sports gTLDs gets real ugly

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2013, 11:08:15 (UTC), Domain Registries

The battle for contested new gTLDs .rugby and .basketball is turning nasty.
Roar Domains, a New Zealand marketing firm whose gTLD applications are backed by the official international bodies for both sports, is promising to pull out all the stops to kill off its competition.
The company, which is partnered with Minds + Machines on both bids, has told rival portfolio applicant Donuts that it will attack its applications for the two TLDs on at least three fronts.
Notably, Roar wants Donuts disqualified from the entire new gTLD program, and plans to lobby to have Donuts fail its background check.
The company told Donuts last month:

while we have no desire to join the chorus of voices speaking out against Donuts, it is incumbent on us to pursue the automatic disqualification of Applicant Guidebook Section 1.2.1, and every opposition and objection process available to us.

Applicant Guidebook section 1.2.1 deals with background checks.
Donuts came under more scrutiny than most on these grounds during the new gTLDs public comment period last year due to its co-founders being involved at the sharp end of domain investment over the last decade.
Demand Media and eNom, where founder Paul Stahura was a senior executive, have lost many UDRP cases over the years.
A mystery lawyer who refuses to disclose his clients started pursuing Donuts last August, saying the company is “unsuited and ineligible to participate in the new gTLD program.”
Separate (pseudonymous?) public comments fingered a former Donuts director for allegedly cybersquatting the Olympics and Disney.
While Roar has not claimed responsibility for these specific previous attacks, it certainly seems to be planning something similar in future.
In addition, Roar and International Rugby Board, which supports Roar’s application for .rugby, say they plan to official objections with ICANN about rival .rugby bids.
The IRB told Donuts, in a letter shortly before Christmas:

As the global representative of the sport and the only applicant vested with the trust and representation of the rugby community, we are unquestionably the rightful steward of .RUGBY.

Without the support of the global rugby community your commercialization efforts for .RUGBY will be thwarted. We are also preparing an objection to file against your application in accordance with ICANN rules to which you will be required to dedicate resources to formulate a response.

Roar and the IRB are also both lobbying members of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, which has the power to file potentially decisive GAC Advice against any application.
Roar told Donuts recently:

Roar serves as the voice and arm for FIBA [the International Basketball Federation] and IRB in the New gTLD area. We are pleased to have obtained four Early Warnings on behalf of our applications, and fully expect the GAC process to be completed to GAC Advice.

The Early Warnings against the two other .rugby applicants were filed by the UK government — the only warnings it filed — while Greece warned the two non-Roar .basketball applicants.
Roar is also involved with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) on its .basketball bid.
While commercial interests obviously play a huge role, there’s a philosophical disagreement at the heart of these fights that could be encapsulated in the following question:
Should new gTLDs only be delegated to companies and organizations most closely affiliated with those strings?
In response to the UK’s Early Warning, Donut has written to UK GAC representative Mark Carvell asking for face-to-face talks and making the case for a “neutral” registry provider for .rugby.
Donuts told Carvell:

We believe gTLDs should be run safely and securely, and in a manner that is fair to all law-­abiding registrants, not only those predetermined as eligible. A neutral third party, such as Donuts, can be best capable of achieving this outcome.

Donuts believes a neutral operator is better able to ensure that the gTLD reflects the full diversity of opinion and content of all Internet users who are interested in the term “rugby.”
As the IRB is a powerful voice in rugby, an IRB‐managed registry might not be neutral in its operations, raising questions about its ability to impartially oversee the gTLD. For example, will IRB/Roar chill free speech by censoring content adversarial to their interests? How would they treat third parties who are interested in rugby but aren’t part of the IRB? What about IRB critics or potential rival leagues?

Despite these questions, no .rugby applicant has said it plans to operate a restricted registry. There are no applications for .basketball or .rugby designated as “Community” bids.
The IRB/Roar application specifically states “anyone can register a .rugby domain name.”
Both .basketball and .rugby are contested by Roar (FIBA/IRB/M+M), Donuts (via subsidiaries) and portfolio applicant Domain Venture Partners (aka Famous Four Media, also via subsidiaries).
Roar is a sports marketing agency that is also involved in bids for .baseball, .soccer, .football and .futbol. The New Zealand national team football captain, Ryan Nelsen, is on its board.
Here are the letters (pdf).

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Comments (10)

  1. Jean Guillon says:

    What if both TLDs (.rugby and .basketball) end in an auction and neither Roar nor Donuts get them?

  2. Guy says:

    it’s like arguing over a dogshit you want to PAY for

  3. Robert Simon says:

    All Roar, no bite
    I’ll say this is getting ugly but Roar better look themselves in the mirror first.
    “Roar serves as the voice and arm for FIBA [the International Basketball Federation] and IRB in the New gTLD area.” That’s fine and dandy – then why are they not listed in the applications? Why are they not subject to background checks themselves? Who is behind Roar? And what is their financial interest in these TLDs? What’s their business relationship with Minds + Machines? If they want disclosure from Donuts, why not do the same themselves.
    Surely they are not doing it for the love of the game. They are doing it for profit and there is nothing wrong with that. Just don’t wrap yourself in the BS blanket of public interest when it’s profit you are after.
    Take the rugby application. The International Rugby Board is not actually the applicant for .rugby. A subsidiary called IRB Strategic Developments Limited is the applicant. On the application, no individual from the IRB or IRB Strategic Developments Limited is listed as the primary or secondary contact for the application.
    According to the application submitted to ICANN, organizations that own 15% or more of the IRB Strategic Developments Limited include Goodbody Trustees Limited, a subsidiary of a large privately held law firm. It is understandable for a multinational law firm to have the applicant as a client, but to actually have an ownership stake in this venture suggests there is a profit motive related to upside potential that could be monetized.
    Mind + Machines also plays a prominent, yet undefined role in the ownership of this entity as well. In a recent update to investors, TLDH, parent of Minds + Machines states:
    ” TLDH is also a joint venture for .rugby, backed by the International Rugby Board (IRB).”
    Yet nowhere in the ownership structure of this applying entity do they show up. Clearly they have a profit motive as well yet have nothing to do with the sport of rugby.
    IRB Strategic Developments Limited’s application answers are also indicative of how they plan to operate their version of .rugby. A community application would have to serve a defined community. In their question to Question 18(a), IRB Strategic Developments Limited describes how this will be a wide open TLD where “anyone can anyone can register a .rugby domain name.”
    In describing their efforts to eliminate or minimize social costs, IRB Strategic Developments Limited chose to highlight how they will auction off to the highest bidder domain names that more than one trademark owner wishes to register as well as other domains that more than one individual may be interested in. This includes rugby clubs, players, supporters and suppliers.
    On Roar’s openness about lobbying the GAC. Does anyone else find it strange that of all the somewhat controversial strings applied for – porn, sex, sucks, wtf, etc – Mark Carvell, the UK GAC Rep decides to only file 2 early warnings again the other Rugby applicants.
    And the IRB isn’t even a UK entity. It’s headquartered in Ireland!!! That’s real value for UK tax payers. So how did Roar, an outfit out of New Zealand “obtain four early warnings on behalf of our applications”, neither of which are located in the UK?
    And in what can only be an instance of bitter irony, Minds + Machines parent company TLDH, who is a beneficiary of this Early Warning, had the following to say about a different GAC Early Warning issued against one of their applications for .green.
    “The Directors do not believe that GAC members are authorised to promote one applicant over another, and do not believe therefore that this warning will be sustained by the full GAC.”
    I for one am looking forward to the next round in this .boxing match.

  4. “Just don’t wrap yourself in the BS blanket of public interest when it’s profit you are after.”
    The same can be said about ICANN, IFFOR, PIR, ISOC and all the other “non-profits” that pretend to be acting in the public interest. 🙂

  5. frank smith says:

    Along the same lines, demand media should be granted “.army” as a “neutral party” “representing all armies”. LOL.

  6. Robert Simon says:

    This piece from Milton Mueller really tells it as it is:
    “We have no idea, for example, whether the path to a government’s sudden intervention on behalf of one applicant was greased with bribes or a promise of favors in return. We do not know, yet, whether there will be a revolving door between GAC members and successful TLD applicants going forward. But whether such things happened in this case or not, those kind of corruption scenarios are not only possible, but increasingly plausible.”

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