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SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/E SportsPrint All
Type www.yahoo.sports.com into your Internet browser and you'll end up at European sports gambling site www.sports.com. The URL www.espn.sportsline.com pushes you to ESPN's Web rival, CBS SportsLine.com.Mistyped addresses are also
directed to sports.com, once owned
by SportsLine and now operated
by a European sports book.
That's because some companies have instructed their servers to direct partially mistyped names to their own sites. (Yahoo! Sports is actually at http://sports.yahoo.com, while ESPN.com resides at www.msn.espn.go.com.)
Is this a smart way to boost Web traffic? Or is it trademark infringement?
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is responsible for U.S. domain name system management, notes that sports.com and sportsline.com are domain names, while an address such as www.espn.sports.com is "sort of" a domain name.
"It's like the extension at the end of a phone number," said Dan Halloran, chief registrar liaison at ICANN.
There's been no big increase in traffic over the years from confused Web users, according to traffic-measurement firm comScore Media Metrix, but even slightly increased traffic numbers can mean higher ad rates, and thus more revenue, in the wired world. And there's no way to measure those who thought they were going to espn.com, found sports.com and never bothered to look for espn.com again.
NBC Sports is assessing how to respond to the fact that www.nbc.sportsline.com sends users to a CBS-affiliated site, CBS SportsLine.com.
"How would [CBS owner] Viacom feel if we took one of their marks in that way?" said Kevin Sullivan, a spokesman for NBC Sports.
Alex Riethmiller, a spokesman for SportsLine.com, said the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. company isn't out to grab competitors' visitors.
"If they're tired and type in 'qqq.sports-line.com' because it's next to the letter W, we don't want them going to a search engine," he said. "If you type in that much [sportsline.com], we're pretty sure you want to end up with us."
Until 1999, Web addresses such as www.fox.sports.com and www.espn.sports.com guided fans to CBS SportsLine.com. They were switched over to the sports.com site when SportsLine.com launched that venue.
The sports.com domain name was owned by SportsLine.com until it was sold to an undisclosed third party this summer. According to alldomains.com, the owner now is Achieve Investments, a Gibraltar company.
Sportingbet, a global sports book based in the United Kingdom, secured the rights to operate the site from Achieve Investments in July. Mark Blandford, executive vice chairman of Sportingbet, said he hadn't known that various domain names ended up at sports.com.
To show trademark infringement, plaintiffs in a legal case would have to prove Section 1125(d) of Title 15 in the United States Code. According to the section: "A person shall be liable in a civil action by the owner of a mark ... [if that person] has a bad-faith intent to profit from that mark ... registers, traffics in, or uses a domain name that ... in the case of a famous mark ... is identical or confusingly similar to or dilutive of that mark."
Michael Overly, a partner at Foley & Lardner in Los Angeles who specializes in Internet law, said that as long as companies direct all variations of Web addresses their way and don't target or publicize specific ones, they should be in the clear.
A Yahoo! spokesperson — who once typed www.yahoo.sports.com to learn more about the company before working there, and arrived instead at sports.com — noted the domain-name issue is under discussion.
At Sports Illustrated, "Anyone using our name without our permission is infringing upon our trademark," said spokeswoman Sheryl Spain.
Imagine a deal where no money is exchanged, no barter arrangement is hammered out. Two companies simply agree to a clutter-free swap.
Yahoo! Sports and Clear Channel Sports just struck such a pact. Clear Channel handed Yahoo! the rights to run live audiocasts of Penn State, Texas A&M, Florida and Iowa State sports contests, four schools for which Clear Channel holds the radio rights. By accepting the package, Yahoo! cured Clear Channel's headache.
Kevin Moore, vice president and general manager of Clear Channel Sports, said the company was tired of dealing with the Webcasts internally.
"It didn't make financial sense for us to continue to do it because it's labor-intensive," he said. "We wanted to make the games available, and they wanted them on their site."
The timing (the school's four football squads are in the top 25) is propitious for Yahoo!, which now hosts football broadcasts for 56 schools in the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Pac-10, Big 12, Big East, Southeastern and Mountain West conferences.
Brian Grey, director of Yahoo! Sports, said the live audiocasts are among the section's most popular features, especially among displaced fans.
"I just got an e-mail from armed forces personnel who were happy they could listen to games outside the U.S.," Grey said, referring to a husband and wife stationed in Malta.
To help publicize its football broadcasts, Yahoo! Sports has started to promote them on the Yahoo! home page during Fridays and Saturday mornings. Other sports, such as basketball and lacrosse, are also part of the three-year Clear Channel agreement.
Clear Channel owns the rights to broadcast games for about a dozen other schools but said it would hold on to their audiocast rights because games were aired on stations owned by Clear Channel.
THE FORCE IS WITH THEM: Though the World Cup ended June 30, the Strike Force lives — and makes money online.
Strike Force T-shirts ($14.95) and posters ($4.95) have been the "hottest items" on mlsgear.com the last three months, according to MLS spokesman Trey Fitz-Gerald. Combined, about 5,000 T-shirts and posters have been sold.
The Strike Force, a group of MLS stars marketed heavily by the league before the World Cup, is led by Landon Donovan. The San Jose Earthquakes star's Strike Force T-shirt is the top seller in the category.
Boosted by the World Cup, MLS online sales are up 30 percent from 2001, bringing in about $400,000 with the league's championship game and the holidays still ahead.
Believe it or not, MLS is still selling T-shirts, hats and other wares of the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny, teams that were folded by the league in January. Most prices have been slashed at least 50 percent.
"We sold through most of our existing inventory in about two months," Fitz-Gerald said. "There was a clear desire to buy a collectible at a very good price."The Associated Press Sports Editors' site has some catching up to do.
SLOW NEWS YEAR: The Web site of the Associated Press Sports Editors (apse.dallasnews.com) has never been known for its rapid updates, despite the AP moniker. But the venue is desperately behind in one category: ridding itself of useless information.
Under "Latest Information" on the home page stands a link to "State of the Internet." The fact the report is 20 months old is bad enough (though at least it offers a historical record).
Worse, the APSE is still promoting last year's convention in a column to the side. An e-mail link asks, "What sessions would you like to see at the 2001 Convention in Baltimore?"
Stale content also appears when looking at past contest winners. ("Will you be attending the APSE convention in Phoenix?" reads one from 1998.)
"One problem we have is we don't have a full-time Webmaster," said John Cherwa, APSE president, who noted the site is maintained by The Dallas Morning News. "It could use some brushing up."
Contact David Sweet at email@example.com.