In the summer of 2018 I was shuffling through Facebook, which I tend to avoid, and saw I’d received a message. It was from a very well-known coach. He complained, “what do you have against the new FINA rules that were being proposed?” It was a good question: what do I have against the new rules?
Nothing. Not really, at least. Well, turns out they weren’t my opinions he was questioning at all, not that I’d even shared any. Those opinions the coach disagreed with weren’t mine. They were the thoughts of leaders from a brand new site called (wait for it), Total Waterpolo!
Well. Where to begin?
There’s a small twinge of flattery that comes with having your brand name copied. But, frankly, the feeling is more one of exasperation.
In 2008 I created a little blog with the catchy name, Total Waterpolo. I wrote some short pieces on the USA men having one of their best Olympic tournaments ever in Beijing. (Jeff Powers’ thumping 8-meter rocket, which essentially cut Serbia off at the knees, remains my favorite goal of all time.) That was fun, but what I knew I really wanted to do was share with the American water polo community just how dynamic the sport was throughout the entire country (a native Californian is allowed to call out the Golden State for myopia). And so I started retweeting news articles, interviewing coaches who were delighted to speak with someone genuinely interested in what was going on in Missouri, Illinois, Florida. Did you know there was a high school water polo championship in Idaho? We reported it.
The sheer bulk of work, retweeting stories from throughout the country, talking with coaches, gathering good sources of information, paid off. Eyes on the site and social media increased steadily over the next few years. We grew to partner with a new blog called Spin Lob (not the podcast/video) and entered a content-sharing agreement with USA Water Polo, which recognized how our efforts had advanced the cause of non-California prep water polo in a big way.
It’s fair to say that, I’m pretty proud of what this little Blogspot thing became. So, naturally, I’m slightly miffed that there is a property that has piggybacked on our name and all the work that went in to it.
But maybe you’re thinking, Total Waterpolo isn’t really accurate in describing what this site presents. I mean, Europe is the seat of all things glorious about the game. Where’s my Primorac Kotor and CN Sabadell fix? Covering those teams might make things more accurately “Total.”
Or, what if you noticed that the original site had gone somewhat dormant, that coverage had waned while a new subsidiary called TXWaterpolo had taken up the slack (check out the podcast)? Doesn’t that mean that the name is up for grabs, that there’s a Total Waterpolo vacuum to be filled?
Let’s create our own European-based Total Waterpolo and offer the true, real, authentic Total experience!
Yeah, sorry. Not how it works.
The chances that the new site arrived at their name by chance seems astronomically low. It’s difficult to conclude anything other than that the property aimed to take advantage of all the goodwill and readership we worked hard to create for over a decade. Nije dobro.
So. What to do?
Well, the very helpful lawyers at Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody went over potential remedies. Perhaps most promisingly, the other site’s domain is registered with GoDaddy, an American firm with which we may file a complaint. Then there are international rules under the UDRP (read at your peril) where digital branding complaints head to arbitration by a third party, a process that takes time and cash. Or we could file a lawsuit, which would be hugely expensive, take lots of time, and likely would be difficult to enforce.
So, we have some legal and administrative options: one we will likely pursue, the others not so much. But here, dear reader, is where you may be able to help tame some of the confusion and maybe a little more.
The first thing you’ve already done: read the story. Now you know our side of it.
You also know that any content you see under that other name has nothing to do with this brand. We are not engaged in some kind of trans-Atlantic joint venture (they could’ve asked). They leveraged (a polite way of putting it) an existing and popular name that was consumed globally to push their own content.
You also may know there’s some confusion about Total Waterpolo in social media. But to us it’s pretty simple. Just look for @totalwaterpolo – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. That’s us. No hyphens, no reversed names, and recently not much content either (we’ve been busy).
Am I asking y’all to boycott the other site? Nah. Life is too short and, just between you and me, some of their stuff is pretty good. No, the last thing I want to to do is tell anyone not to read something, especially about the sport I love. Just know that their efforts and judgements are, from my perspective, not without their flaws.
Maybe I’ve got this all wrong. Maybe it’s just a big misunderstanding. I’m willing to hear the other side of the story in great detail. I don’t expect that other side to ever come. But I’ll be here brushing up on my Serbo-Croatian.
In the mean time, just know this. To everyone who’s ever sent a nice note, who’s gotten on the phone with me, who’s been so hospitable as I tried to cover the sport throughout the US, who’s partnered with the brand, who’s written for the site, who’s read a single story, for you and many others I am profoundly grateful.
We all know that the American water polo community has its flaws. That’s because we are humans, last I checked. But it’s humanity and kindness that has sustained me and this brand for over a decade.
For that, I thank you.
Oh, and ping me if you happen to work for GoDaddy.