Date Posted: October 2010
This is (roughly) the 10th anniversary of the transfer of a unique and valuable baseball property. On September 6, 2000, Major League Baseball and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP (a very big and very prominent Philadelphia-based international law firm) issued a joint press release announcing “that the law firm has transferred its domain name — mlb.com — to Major League Baseball.” From today’s perspective in the current age of the Internet, looking back at a time when the rise of that age (or at least its angle of ascent) was not at all clear, it seems like a bizarrely fortuitous set of coincidences:
• In 1994, the initials of big-time baseball (Major League Baseball = MLB) and the initials of one of big-time baseball’s longtime, big-time outside law firms (Morgan, Lewis & Bockius = MLB) were the same (and still are); and
• In 1994, it was the law firm that had the foresight, or luck, to move relatively early to register the mlb.com Internet domain name.
And then . . .
• Several years later, in 2000, when Major League Baseball started to aggressively market itself on the Internet, Morgan Lewis & Bockius was, for a variety of reasons described below, willing to part with mlb.com for a song, or perhaps even less.
At the time of its consummation, the mlb.com transaction got a lot of attention in the news media, as well it might. Because by 2000, it was obvious that the Internet was big business, and transactions in Internet domain names were sufficiently common and significant to inspire government regulation of that market. But even in the new and booming and volatile domain-name market, the mlb.com deal qualified as unusual in at least two respects. The deal also illustrates the difficulty of placing a value on a favor, at least between lawyer and client, in the context of the business of baseball.