Founded in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, the National Football League (ʺNFLʺ) is the most popular American sports league. The NFL consists of thirty-two Member Clubs (i.e., teams), evenly divided between the American Football Conference and the National Football... Read more
Founded in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, the National Football League (ʺNFLʺ) is the most popular American sports league. The NFL consists of thirty-two Member Clubs (i.e., teams), evenly divided between the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference, and spread out across the United States as follows: Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, and Washington Redskins.
Every year fans descend on stadiums in tremendous numbers to watch NFL teams compete, culminating in the annually most-watched television program in the United States - the Super Bowl. With an average attendance of over 65,000 fans during each game of the 2011-2012 season, the NFL is the best-attended domestic sports league in the world. Indeed, NFL fansʹ devotion to the Super Bowl (even if their favorite team is not playing) has set American television viewing records in recent years. Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 was the most-watched TV program in U.S. history with an approximate audience of 111.3M. The 2012 Super Bowl was also telecast in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
The NFLʹs popularity does not end with the final play in any given game. NFL fans support the League year-round wearing team-branded apparel, decorating their homes and offices with branded merchandise, reading the latest news about their favorite players and teams, and ʺdraftingʺ their favorite players to their fantasy football teams. The market for NFL-related merchandise, ticket sales, advertising, and other products and services is now regularly valued in the billions of dollars.
Not surprisingly, the NFLʹs online presence is also tremendously popular. The NFLʹs principal website, which is associated with the 〈nfl.com〉 domain name, launched in or around 1996. During the 2011 NFL season, the NFL received an average of 70 million unique visitors per month to its website, syndicated and mobile properties. NFL fans want the complete fan experience and the NFL seeks to provide it, whether at the stadium, at home, at the store, or on the internet.
The marks of the NFL have always been well-protected. The NFL and its affiliates hold several hundred trademark registrations worldwide that contain or consist of NFL or NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Additionally, the NFL and its thirty-two Member Clubs hold approximately ten thousand other trademark registrations, including U.S. federal, U.S. state, and foreign trademarks, for other related marks.
Unfortunately, with such high demand and a correspondingly large market, there is an ever-present risk of unscrupulous third-parties who will try to unlawfully benefit from the NFL and NFL fans. The NFL works tirelessly to prevent the sale of fraudulent NFL game tickets, counterfeit NFL merchandise and other related illegal activities. The NFL devotes significant resources to policing for counterfeits and taking enforcement actions against counterfeiters, often joining forces with law enforcement. For example, the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ʺICEʺ) recently partnered with the NFL and seized roughly $4.8 million in counterfeit merchandise, while the Ontario and Los Angeles international airports intercepted almost 11,000 fake NFL jerseys between September 2011 and January 2012 alone. Because many counterfeit ticket, video, and merchandise operations are occurring online, secure and authentic web transactions are becoming increasingly important to the NFL. The NFLʹs Vice President of Legal Affairs recently explained that counterfeiting websites ʺmimic the look and feel of official NFL team websites in order to dupe consumers into believing they are buying legitimate goods from authorized retailers.ʺ Similarly, unauthorized distribution of NFL game content, whether live or previously recorded, threatens the value of professional football to the NFL, broadcasters, digital media companies, business partners, and fans. As an NFL representative testified to the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, ʺ[e]very year the NFL invests substantially more time and resources dedicated to combating online piracy.ʺ
NFL Reg Ops LLC (ʺNFL Reg Opsʺ), the applicant, is an Affiliate of the NFL. We anticipate that the .nfl gTLD may provide an opportunity to create a more secure and authentic online experience for NFL fans, to introduce more Internet users to the sport of American football, and to protect the NFLʹs intellectual property rights. Whether purchasing game tickets, checking the latest scores and news, playing NFL-sponsored fantasy football with friends, buying NFL merchandise, watching NFL footage, or anything else fans seek to do in support of the NFL, we hope that an .nfl gTLD will immediately, clearly, and effectively let fans know that they are on an authentic and trustworthy NFL domain.
This .nfl gTLD application is a logical progression in the NFLʹs history of online innovation. Seeing an opportunity to enhance its online presence and build relationships with fans, advertisers, and other businesses, the NFL took over operation of NFL.com from third-party producers in 2007. The Senior Vice President of NFL Digital Media and Media Strategy explained: ʺIn a rapidly changing digital landscape, bringing NFL.com in-house provides us greater control of our valuable content and enables us to strategically build the site as a media asset. Fans can look forward to an even more entertaining, interactive and informative site built upon the expertise of the NFL and its other in-house media outlets such as NFL Network and NFL Films.ʺ The .nfl gTLD has the potential to integrate marketing, fan interaction, ticket sales, news, merchandise, and other services into a simple .nfl domain that communicates an assurance of a secure and authentic NFL experience. Similarly, it is possible that, over time, consumers may come to recognize and rely on an .nfl gTLD as a signpost of security and authenticity. Further, we hope that our decision to allow only NFL Reg Ops, its Affiliates and the NFLʹs Member Clubs to register and use .nfl domains may hasten recognition of the .nfl gTLD as an indication of security and authenticity.
We also look forward to the possibility that the .nfl gTLD may create new opportunities for each of the NFLʹs thirty-two Member Clubs, expand the reach of the NFL outside the United States, and generate innovative ways for the NFL to expand its charitable activities. An .nfl gTLD that is open only to a limited number of Registrants-specifically, NFL Reg Ops, its Affiliates, and the thirty-two NFL Member Clubs-may embody a simple and unique way to integrate team websites with that of the NFL, while still maintaining the highest NFL standards for content and security. Similarly, .nfl may enable the NFL to eventually reach foreign audiences more easily with the most relevant news, statistics, merchandise, and advertising in their own languages, potentially with domain names in their own language scripts. Finally, we hope that it will provide a new opportunity for the NFL to continue charitable and social campaigns to foster community citizenship and philanthropy. ×