Ryan Nelsen affords himself a little smile. The former All Whites captain, who was at the forefront of New Zealand's 2010 World Cup campaign, heads a small company that owns the domain names - and probably the future digital identities - of two of the world's biggest sports.

Nelsen's company, Roar Domains, together with the respective world governing bodies, have gained control of .basketball and .rugby, despite competition from some of the richest internet companies on the planet.

Nelsen and his team prevailed in a duel that cost them millions of dollars and thousands of hours.

To put the achievement in perspective, basketball and rugby are the only two major sports that now control their own top level domain names. Fifa doesn't have .football, the ICC missed out on .cricket and the likes of .golf, .tennis and .hockey are owned by Wall Street-backed American internet conglomerates.


"I'm not sure how we did it," Nelsen told the Herald on Sunday. "We were incredibly naive with what we were getting into, a couple of Kiwis who thought we could have a go at this. But once we were into it, we were determined to come out on top."

From the outset, Roar Domains partnered with Fiba (world basketball) and World Rugby, the key point of difference against mega-funded opposition bids.

Fiba has switched from Fiba.com to Fiba.basketball, along with all their properties (worldcup.basketball, championsleague.basketball).

"For them to convert from Fiba.com was massive," said Roar Domains co-founder Hamish Miller. "It sent a strong signal to the rest of the world."

Canadian Basketball has followed suit (canada.basketball), along with Lithuania, Tunisia, Puerto Rico, Switzerland and New Zealand. Most of the other 213 nations under the Fiba umbrella are expected to follow. And among clubs, the Breakers are one of the earliest adopters, while Duke University has acquired the rights to Duke.basketball and other derivatives.

The possibilities are endless. Nelsen has had meetings with top level figures in the NBA, as well as the powerful NBA players' union.

"There is an obvious appeal," said Nelsen. "For example, Pistons.com could mean different things to different people. But Pistons.basketball spells it out, with no ambiguity. Then you think about LeBron.basketball, KingJames.basketball, 23.basketball."

As another example, the huge United States basketball federation is currently USAB.com.

"That could be anything, any sort of company," said Miller. "But if you talk USA.basketball, there is no ambiguity."


Roar Domains also has further meetings with World Rugby next month. That is likely to lead to a change to world.rugby and from there it may cascade downwards. Who knows? From Bath.rugby to Blues.rugby, there is a specificity and uniqueness that has undeniable appeal in the increasingly congested internet landscape, where having a strong digital footprint is vital.

"When you start thinking about where it could go, your head starts spinning," said Miller. "It's bloody exciting."

To appreciate Nelsen and Miller's journey, you need to understand the complex world of top level domain names.

In 2011, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) decided to expand the available portfolio of generic top level domain names (gTLDs).

Since 1996 there had been only a handful; the ubiquitous .com, as well as .org, .gov, .net, .edu, .mil, .int and .co, and the accepted national abbreviations (.nz, .au, .uk).

But ICANN's new initiative meant hundreds of generic words could be applied for, which set the tech world buzzing. Millions had been made from initial domain name offerings in the 1990s, often by speculators who 'squatted' on generic names.

Fund.com sold for more than $10 million, while diamond.com (US$7.5 million) and toys.com (US$5.1 million) were other massive money spinners.

Country names were also lucrative; New Zealand.com was purchased for US$500,000 in 2003, England.com went for 2 million and Korea.com US$5 million. The sporting realm provided significant yields, with SkiResorts.com (US$850,000), Bike.com (US$500,000) and Wrestling.com ($500,000) reaping large rewards for initial purchasers.

So what would happen if almost any generic top level domain name - from .food to .fun, .bagel to .beach - was made available? There was expected to be fierce competition.

Given their backgrounds, Miller and Nelsen saw an opportunity in sport. They initially targeted .football, but then realised it might be too ambiguous (soccer, futbol, futebol, NFL etc).

They focused instead on basketball, rugby and cricket and were committed to partnering with the respective sports, believing the international bodies should be the stewards of their own digital identities and territories.

Negotiations with the ICC didn't advance far but Fiba and World Rugby saw potential. Agreements were signed, and Roar put in applications for .basketball and .rugby in April 2012.

It was then they realised the scale of the opposition they were up against.

"Each application to ICANN cost US$185,00," said Nelsen, "But one of our competitors had applied for 307 different domain names, including .rugby. Another had lodged 67."

It was an ideological battle.

"We believed in what we were doing for the betterment of the sport," said Miller. "We wanted to make sure the rightful stakeholders got the rightful names. These other guys didn't care. It was just another domain name to put on the shelf."

The odds were against Roar, and the stakes were high. One competitor had raised US$100 million, while another had existing alliances with 150 global domain name registrars.

But Roar boxed clever. The ICANN process allowed for objections to be filed to the International Chamber of Commerce, if it was felt competing potential applicants would be unsuitable stewards of the domain name.

Roar objections over .rugby were upheld, with the chamber deciding World Rugby and Roar were the appropriate stewards of the gTLD.

The battle for .basketball was more complicated and eventually went to a private auction. Roar won with a final bid of more than $1.5 million.

After six years' work and an outlay estimated to be almost $4 million, Roar, together with the respective sporting bodies, are the proprietors of .basketball and .rugby.

"We have got the tiger by the tail," said Nelsen. "The gates are locked now, but we have the key."

Nelsen had retired from football in 2013 after more than 230 games in the English top flight. He took on the Toronto coaching job, but the Stanford graduate also pursued a business career.

Miller, who had been Nelsen's business manager since the early days of his career, had a long marketing background with extensive work for Fifa and New Zealand's A1GP team.

The duo has combined with various business ventures - including offering New Zealand wines for Premier League players and managers - but this is their biggest one yet.

The scale is massive. As Nelsen points out, there are 600,000 registered basketball players in France alone, and thousands of clubs. Add in all the other basketball-mad nations, and you have a huge digital community, and Nelsen and Miller will be at the centre.