(Tracy Fogarty) – A question of legal rights and the ability to see future potential led to a deal that deemed the domain LasVegas.com so valuable that VEGAS.com might ultimately pay $90 million for it.
Back in 2004, in the midst of two mega mergers that would create the two biggest casino companies in the world, Las Vegas’ two largest media groups had a multi-million dollar problem that they hoped a Clark County District Court judge would be able to solve.
One of the world’s most desirable domain names, LasVegas.com, had been negotiated for two times over, with Stephens Media Intellectual Property LLC, a subsidiary of the parent company that owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and VEGAS.com LLC, a subsidiary of Greenspun Media Group (“GMG”) which owns the Las Vegas Sun, both claiming that Mandalay Resort Group (now MGM Resorts International) and Caesars Entertainment Inc. (now Caesars Entertainment Corporation) were jointly contractually bound to sell their ownership interests in LAS Travel to each of them.
LAS Travel, which was previously known as LasVegas.com LLC, held the rights to a lease agreement between the casino companies and GMG for the corresponding LasVegas.com domain name. Stephens Media as the owner of the LasVegas.com domain had an option to acquire the controlling interests in LAS Travel by matching the terms of any VEGAS.com offer.
At the time of litigation, VEGAS.com, through GMG, was offering $12 million for rights to the site name. Then in 2005, Stephens Media and GMG struck a ‘decades long’ deal on a lease agreement that was believed to be record-setting, even though the terms were not publicly disclosed.
Fast forward to the 2015 SEC filing for Vegas.com LLC as reported on by domain investor George Kirikos. The consolidated financial statements detail a massive transaction under Note 2 – Intangible Assets and Note 7 – LasVegas.com Purchase Obligation that VEGAS.com may pay roughly $90 million over 35 years to buy the domain name LasVegas.com
Specifically, the filing reads:
In June 2005, VEGAS.com, LLC entered into an agreement for the purchase of LasVegas.com. The agreement specified that a $12,000,000, one-time payment be made upon execution of the agreement along with monthly payments of approximately $83,000 for 36 months, $125,000 for the next 60 months, and then $208,000 for the next 36 months.
Per the terms of the agreement, after June 30, 2016, following the 132 initial monthly payments, VEGAS.com, LLC in its sole discretion may terminate the agreement and forfeit the domain name. If VEGAS.com, LLC chooses not to terminate the agreement, they will continue making the monthly payments of approximately $208,000 until June 30, 2040, at which time the seller will transfer the domain name to VEGAS.com, LLC without further payment or cost to VEGAS.com, LLC.
As of June 2005, the present value of the future payment obligations was determined to be approximately $12,264,000, using a discount rate of 6.25 percent. The initial $12,000,000 payment has been capitalized and is being amortized over 35 years, which is the term of the agreement.
The present value of the future purchase obligation of approximately $12,264,000 was capitalized and is being amortized beginning July 2005 and ending June 2016, which is the period that VEGAS.com, LLC is legally bound by the agreement to continue making payments.
Subsequent to June 2016, the agreement will continue on a month to month basis until June 30, 2040, and all payments made will be recognized as an expense.
The initial offer of $12 million alone was greater than the highest reported domain sale in 2005. In contrast, domain investor Kirikos laughingly pointed out on his Twitter account that automated domain name appraisal tool Estibot puts the value of LasVegas.com at $231,000.
That’s one of the shortcomings of using a mostly mathematical algorithm to set a price for the heavily visited website that holds the number 1 spot on Google for the search term ‘Las Vegas.’ It’s arbitrary and cannot account for other pricing considerations like the size of the business and the opportunity at hand.
Why is LasVegas.com worth a potentially record-setting amount of $90 million?
The buyer saw value and potential. Initially, the domain name LasVegas.com was simply valuable because the website organically attracts millions of travelers planning to visit the city of Las Vegas and the companies used it to help sell hotel rooms for Mandalay and Caesars properties. However, the website was not genuinely branded or developed at the time of acquisition.
Although GMG owns the equally coveted rival domain, VEGAS.com, the two domains are completely different websites attracting users from different demographics. Thus, both domains have a great deal of value independently because they cater to the needs of two unique audiences.
Moreover, with tourism being the main revenue source for the city and bringing in billions every year, the operators of VEGAS.com were banking on the rival site’s long-term value as a one-stop shopping hub to book flights, hotels, transportation, tours and shows.
In other words, its potential reach, and it has demonstrated this long-term value indeed as the domain’s website developed and grew as a brand over the years. Lots of revenue is generated from the tremendous traffic to the website.
A deal was made after VEGAS.com’s acquisition of LasVegas.com because its website now states that “LasVegas.com is the tourist destination web site of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA).” According to AdAge.com, in 2013 the LVCVA launched a $20 million ad campaign just to rebrand its former visitlasvegas.com website into LasVegas.com.
Assuming that this represents the 10% of annual revenue most companies spend on overall marketing, LasVegas.com was well worth the purchase price.
(Ms. Fogarty is founder & CEO at eNaming. With over 20 years in the brokerage business, she has helped thousands of clients achieve their goals on both sides of the negotiation table. Creative and result oriented professional, Ms. Fogarty strives on honest communication, value proposition, the big picture perspective, and bottom-line profitability.)