A league of his own - and Murdoch on the sideline

A Tauranga businessman has beaten Rupert Murdoch's mighty News Ltd to registering the potentially lucrative superleague.co.nz domain. 'I was amazed that it was available, given the Super League and Murdoch connection,' says Garth Blake. 'I enquired late last year and when they said it was available, I couldn't quite believe it.'

A Tauranga businessman has beaten Rupert Murdoch's mighty News Ltd to registering the potentially lucrative superleague.co.nz domain.

Garth Blake also bagged rugbyleague.co.nz when he registered the names late last year through the private NETRegistry company.

"I was amazed that it was available, given the Super League and Murdoch connection," says Blake. "I enquired late last year and when they said it was available, I couldn't quite believe it, but I asked a few people about it and they told me about past cases. I must admit, it became more and more scary to think, how could they leave a hole like that?"

A similar scoop took place in rugby union last year, when Pro-Sport Media, publisher of Rugby News, registered a number of names, including rugby.co.nz and allblacks.co.nz - which will become an issue if the rugby union decides to launch the All Blacks on the stock market.

But Blake's move is remarkable because the New Zealand Rugby League is already calling itself Super League New Zealand, reflecting its dependence on funding from Murdoch's global franchise.

NETRegistry director Peter Mott says he knew little of Blake's plans for the domains he helped register but was relieved to find out Blake's intent was not simply speculation.

"Anybody who registers a name for the sole purpose of offering it to a third party for some financial consideration is acting unacceptably, and I think we need to establish that as a clear principle," says Mott. "That doesn't appear to be the case here."

Blake's Tauranga business is a phonecard shop, but he has a background in sports marketing and has worked with the New Zealand league. He says he presently "wouldn't have a clue" whether the league or News Ltd knows he has registered the names.

"There are a whole heap of things to be done yet, and securing the name was just the first one. I'm still working out what I'm going to do and how I'm going to do it," says Blake.

"Apart from anything else, the league here is a bit upside down at the moment. I'll wait until after the round of elections. I am hoping that Graham Carden is re-elected [as chairman]. He has plenty of knockers, but I think he's the one to move rugby league in New Zealand to where it needs to be."

Unlike some others have have scooped domains in the past year, Blake is looking to work with Super League New Zealand in establishing online promotion and advertising for the sport.

"This will promote the sport and give them a higher profile. [The Internet] maybe isn't that big at the moment, but I've looked to the future. The traditional marketing methods are changing. New Zealand's a bit slow, but I think this is going to become a major focus for a lot of marketing businesses."

So is he concerned about a potential skirmish with the demonstrably mighty Murdoch legal machine?

"What are they going to do? I haven't taken the logos or anything like that - it's just a name. From Superleague's point of view, what I'm going to do can only help."

At any rate, Murdoch may consider the Internet horse to have already bolted. A quick scan around the other league-playing territories reveals that while superleague.co.uk is still available and superleague.com.au is "undelegated" but registered to The Super League, the most valuable domain - superleague.com - is the proud possession of a large and apparently quite successful Dutch pornography site.

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