Nett Corp., run by veteran domain-name investor Roy Edward Messer, has sold vodka.com for $3 million to vodka maker Russian Standard Vodka, which began its foray into the U.S. market last year. The deal was brokered by Sedo.com, the juggernaut in the domain-name aftermarket business. It’s a huge sale for Messer, of Tallahassee, Fla., a carpet seller who began speculating on domains in the 1990s. The transaction ranks as one of the largest in the domain-name market this year. Domain-industry bible DNJournal.com lists other big reported sales; many deals, like AOL’s $11 million purchase of games.com, are not publicly reported.
The sale of vodka.com has received some coverage in the Russian press. Billionaire Roustam Tariko, chairman and owner of the vodka company’s parent, Russian Standard Co., introduced Russian Standard Original in 1998. According to this Wikipedia entry, the vodka is reportedly the favorite of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Messer traveled to St. Petersburg in October to negotiate the deal face to face with executives from Russian Standard, including Tariko. Christian Kalled, Sedo.com’s director of North America brokerage, was on hand to broker the deal. It was negotiated at the time Russian Standard announced the launch of a new $60 million vodka distillery in St. Petersburg. The parties had been negotiating for several months, and talks broke off a few times, according to Jeremiah Johnston, chief operating officer and general counsel for Sedo.com LLC in Cambridge, Mass.
The sale “is a good indication of how large corporations are starting to see the value of domains as a crucial part of their international marketing campaigns,” said Johnston. “And it shows domains are becoming status symbols.” Sedo and other domain brokers have been striving to persuade more corporations and small businesses to explore purchasing generic domains as a way to build their brands. Barnes and Noble, which owns books.com, and Bank of America, which owns loans.com, are among large companies that have used such names to attract customers who seek information by typing terms directly into their address bar, rather than using a search engine.
Right now, Russian Standard is directing vodka.com to its corporate site, but is expected to use the site for some colorful marketing aimed at U.S. drinkers. Prior to the sale, vodka.com featured pay-per-click advertisements for vodka and other liquor products, as well as a photo of a bikini-clad woman toting a martini glass in shallow beach waters. The name was transferred to Russian Standard last week, Johnston said.
Messer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.