As CEO of a domain brokerage, I’ve heard quite a few crazy stories over the last couple of decades. This one is likely tops in the world of domains, brands, and the type of value we bring to the table when consulting the world’s top brands on domain name acquisitions.
Domain names and the words as business uses for branding matters. Even if the words, or in the case of WWF versus WWE, the acronyms don’t use the same words at all.
It may simply be a matter of the type of business, what activities the business engages in, the content, and more. Even if a business has permission from the original domain and/or business owner.
All of which may cause a website domain royal rumble. And did for many years.
This is all well documented, but oddly not popularized. It is, in many ways, like it never happened at all. And this story teaches us important lessons about domains and the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP).
It is the website domain name royal rumble. The WWF (World Wildlife Fund for Nature) vs WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) and a Domain Investor.
Let’s get it on!
The WWF Agreement of 1994 Broken Like a Ladder in a Ladder Match
To tell this bizarre, yet very important domain tale between wrestlers and pandas, the ending should probably be the beginning.
Did you know WWF (the Worldwide Wrestling Federation, not the wildlife fund) was changed to WWE in 2002?
“To further capture a greater share of the global marketplace and to represent the growing diversity of its entertainment properties, World Wrestling Federation Entertainment today announced it is changing its name to World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE),” a 2002 WWE press release noted. “The company’s website, one of the most popular in the world, will now be found at WWE.com.”
Linda McMahon, the CEO of World Wrestling Federation said the name change, “provides a distinct and unencumbered global identity that will further cast World Wrestling Entertainment as an integrated entertainment and media company.”
This it certainly did. However, the new WWE would have gladly kept WWF if it had not lost a website domain Royal Rumble with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Also known as World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
In the first round, the WWF wrestlers lost, and the WWF pandas won.
Confused yet? The wrestlers had to give up WWF.com as a result of an agreement. This ended the first round of the match in 1994.
The 1994 agreement allowed the WWF wrestlers to go about business in the United States. However, any international use of WWF for wrestling purposes needed to cease.
There were a ton of potential reasons behind the 1994 agreement. Some allegations of poor behavior outside of the ring in 1992 may have played a role.
Nonetheless, the 1994 agreement was in place until the wrestlers were again pinned for the three count in a 2002 lawsuit. A lawsuit in which the World Wildlife Fund claimed the wrestlers were not playing by the rules, and demanded the wrestlers discontinue all uses of WWF.
The wrestling federation argued that changing the brand could cost upwards of $35 million. But the judge pointed out it was their own fault for risking the wrath of the panda people by skirting the agreement, saying, “the costs of rebranding now, after five years of development, are entirely attributable to its (World Wrestling Federation) own decision to take that risk.”
WWE Took a Risk
RISK is certainly worth highlighting here. The agreement of 1994 between the now WWE and the WWF should have been the moment the now WWE changed up the domain and branding strategy. Instead of trying to bounce back from the ropes for more punishment.
But they took the risk, and ultimately lost. The 2002 win for the World Wildlife Fund required the wrestling organization to entirely stop using WWF branding.
Now this is where everything gets bizarre.
After all of 2002, the WWE let the domain name, WWF.com expire. When that happened the domain name expired, and was picked by a domain investor.
This domain investor then used WWF.com as a web forum dedicated to everything happening in the wrestling world, since fans still associated “WWF” with wrestling content. Now imagine the faces of the Word Wildlife Fund’s legal team, when asked why they did not get the domain name in the first place!
They just finished their dispute with the old WWF, and like a punch-drunk palooka climbing back into the ring, the WWF.com domain name was back to being about wrestling online.
Naturally, the World Wildlife Fund took action by filing a domain name arbitration proceeding with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 2006.
Who Was to Blame?
Was the domain investor to blame? Not really. The domain name WWF.com was never transferred to the World Wildlife Fund because the now WWF failed to obtain a court order to do so in 2002 after the legal case. Additionally, the domain was not infringing on the World Wildlife Fund’s trademark, and the domain investor never had an agreement with the World Wildlife Fund like WWE did.
The people that could have a claim was World Wrestling Entertainment, but their hands were tied by the fact that they were no longer allowed to use WWF. In fact, I’m told that the WWE contacted the domain investor before the domain dispute was filed, in order to ask him for a statement that WWE had nothing to do with his use of the domain name, so they could tell the wildlife folks, “It’s not us!”
For these resons, the domain investor won the final match, and kept WWF.com. The domain name may have changed hands since then, and unless you are looking for a new gambling account, or possibly a dubious download, I do not suggest going to it.
Lessons Learned from the Website Domain Royal Rumble: WWF vs WWE vs WWF.com
The saga of WWF.com is entertaining, but there are a couple of takeaways worth keeping in mind.
For instance, consider the risk of co-existing with another user of the same brand in another market. While internet domain names were not on anyone’s mind in 1994, it is harder now for companies to co-exist using the same mark for different goods or in different markets, when only one of them can have the domain name.
Even now, many domain name disputes are driven by companies which, at the time they chose their brand, were unable to obtain the corresponding domain name and decided it didn’t matter. Then, years later, a company using ThisNameCompany.com realizes that they would have been better off either securing ThisName.com up front or choosing a different name if they could not get that domain name.
Getting a website domain for your business can be pretty simple. But looking at who else is using the same or similar branding for even very different goods or services, making sure that your domain name is the most intuitive and direct way for your customers to find you, and securing the optimal domain name, or going back to the branding drawing board, can prove challenging. This is why professional help from experts is a must.
The last thing you want is a domain dispute notification, or even worse, getting sued and needing to rebrand your entire business. Don’t risk it.