Lessons in Brand Protection: Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys

Written by Mike Awada on . Posted in Business, Domains, Sports

cowboys.com

Jerry Jones, Owner of the Dallas Cowboys

In the interconnected digital era we live in, brand protection is more important than ever. This holds especially true when your brand is a generic term, one with over 1,500 trademark claims in the U.S. alone. The only way to compound that importance is when your brand and logo happens to be one of the most recognizable on the planet.

All of these combined factors didn’t seem to add up in Jerry Jones’ or the Dallas Cowboys‘ heads, as they let a monumental opportunity to lock up the exact match .com of their football squad slip away over what amounted to pennies in the grand scheme of things. Now the Dallas Cowboys must face the consequences of having millions of individuals worldwide exposed to a product that is not representative of their brand (in this case, much the opposite).

The Dallas Cowboys football team is one of the top sports teams in the world, having won five Super Bowls. They’re often referred to as America’s team. Just this month, Forbes valued the organization at $2.1 billion, the highest financial assessment of any team on the planet besides English soccer powerhouse Manchester United. Their EBITDA in 2011 alone was $227 million, more than the entire National Basketball Association!

Jerry Jones has owned DallasCowboys.com since November of 1995. People searching for them online though, are often lazy and are very likely to just skip the Dallas and head straight to Cowboys.com, a site that Mr. Jones does not own (registered in March of 1995). This lack of foresight in securing the matching .com has led to the frustration of countless individuals who didn’t have the patience or the savvy to dig deeper than just typing in Cowboys.com to find the team’s website.

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Cowboys Stadium

Two years before unveiling their crown jewel, the most awe-inspiring and state of the art stadium in the world, the Dallas Cowboys had the opportunity to halt this problem.

A fateful day in 2007, however, cost Jones and the entire Cowboys organization the chance to lock-up Cowboys.com forever (once you own a domain name, renewal fees are just $10 per year).

At the 2007 TRAFFIC domain conference hosted by domain industry heavyweights Rick Schwartz and Howard Neu, bidders worldwide had the rare opportunity to bid on the super-premium, one word domain, Cowboys.com. A phone-in bid was placed by someone confirmed to be a representative of the Dallas Cowboys in the amount of $275,000. This ended up being the winning bid! After twelve years, Jerry and Co. had finally got it right: except for one little detail. Inexplicably, the Cowboys decision makers thought the winning amount was $275, not $275,000. They backed out of the domain purchase and it went back up for sale.

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Courtesy of TargetedTraffic.com

This was obviously met with a ton of controversy, but there was no way for TRAFFIC to enforce the final bid. Later that year, the domain went back up for sale, in an unaffiliated Moniker domain auction. To the delight of the original owner, it sold to a group of investors known as “Cowboys.com group LLC”, this time bringing in $370,000. The winning group understood the value of the domain name, and was more than happy to pay up.

Coincidentally, Rick Schwartz, the host of the TRAFFIC conference, was one of the individuals involved in the purchase. Rick said of the domain “When they passed and made it clear that they were the DALLAS Cowboys and not the Cowboys, that gave a group of us the permission and power to scoop up this very valuable domain name.”

That was in 2007. Since then, the domain has sat in limbo, undeveloped and underutilized, until now. Cowboys.com group LLC has finally put the premium domain to use: it is now the “#1 Dating Portal Online For Gay Dating.” Here’s a quote from the homepage:

cowboys.com-gay-dating-site

Courtesy of Cowboys.com

“Cowboys.com is an online dating community for men who enjoy the same country living lifestyle. Are you a country western cowboy looking for a man to ride into the sunset with? Come and create relationship with singles share your appreciation for the country way of life. You’ll be able to find your perfect match here.”

Online dating has exploded over the last decade, and a site that gets hundreds of thousands of unique visitors per month is destined for success no matter what it’s used for. It’s not farfetched to think that the investment group will recoup their investment in no-time.

The site has been getting a ton of media exposure as well, no doubt from people looking for information on America’s team. Could this just be a ploy to stick it to Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys? If so, it’s an expensive one, as the new Cowboys.com site looks to have been professionally developed, but who really knows.

This is another prime example of the importance of brand protection in the digital age we now live in. The Dallas Cowboys had the chance to avoid this fiasco years ago by securing the short, exact match .com of their generic brand, but now the brand that they’ve worked so hard to build over decades will forever be associated with a dating site, potentially deterring and misleading fans.

Astounde reached out to TRAFFIC co-founder and Domain Hall of Famer Rick Schwartz regarding this story, and Rick had some strong words regarding how everything went down:

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Rick Schwartz

“When the Dallas Cowboys stated five years ago that they thought, after 10 minutes of bidding, the sales price was $275 and not $275,000, few of us believed him.”

TRAFFIC is a high profile domain conference, attracting some of the biggest names in business and the domain industry year after year. The Cowboys’ representative knew enough to virtually attend the conference and bid on the name, but was very unprofessional when push came to shove. It’s surprising that in 2007, after the .com boom, bust and reboom, the Cowboys’ representatives would be that clueless about the bidding process, and the value of domain names.

On the issue of the value that the domain could’ve brought to the Dallas Cowboys for just a fraction of what their billion dollar stadium cost, Rick had this to say:

“We would have been just as happy to show the DALLAS cowboys how having MULTIPLE entrances to their website is not much different than having multiple entrances to their stadium. Imagine if their stadium only had one door. The game would be over before they could get all the people through that one door.”

The entire fiasco will go down as one of the great online blunders of all time. A multibillion dollar organization failed to lock-up and protect their brand and must now face the consequences. Not only that, they lost the opportunity to market the much sleeker and smoother Cowboys.com on all of their gear, and prominently display it on all of the portals of their new cutting edge stadium.

It looks to be too late for Jerry Jones, Cowboys.com may never be his. But business professional and company owners take note, if you have the opportunity to lock up your online brand (either your business or your name), and you can afford it, it would behoove you to act like the Cowboys of the wild west and pull the trigger.


Source: Interview with Rick Schwartz

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