GTLD Auctions

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This article is neutral, but is sponsored by Cramton Associates,
a consultancy offering specific services for contending TLD applicants.
More information can be found here.
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In the case where multiple entities apply for a single ICANN new gTLD, two main models -- ICANN Auctions and Private Auctions -- will be used to determine the winner of each contention set. Exceptions are made in the case of geographic and community-based applicants, who receive preferential treatment over other applicants.

In August 2008, ICANN published a document stating the economic case for using auctions in new gTLDs. They cite allocative efficiency, via the following ways in particular:[1]

  1. Applicants whose true intentions or abilities are to serve many users would be able to justify higher bids than applicants who will serve few users;
  2. Applicants capable of providing high-quality service at low cost would be able to justify higher bids than low-quality, high-cost applicants;
  3. Applicants who intend to develop the gTLD immediately would be able to justify higher bids than applicants whose purpose is to hold the gTLD, unused, for speculative purposes.

ICANN notes in the document that though "auctions are not perfectly aligned with ICANN's objectives, alternative allocation mechanisms such as comparative evaluations and lotteries inherently have much more severe limitations and defects".[1]

ICANN Auctions

ICANN condones private auctions as it encourages all contending applicants to work out contention themselves, presumably through buy-outs, partnerships, and auctions. ICANN offers its own auction model as a last resort. All gTLDs auctioned off under ICANN's auction model will see their proceeds going to ICANN as "excess funds" that go well past covering original costs. Those funds will be redistributed at a later date, in ways that are yet to be determined.[2]

Private Auctions

Numerous companies have surfaced to offer private auction models, including Sedo, Cramton Associates, and Right of the Dot. All offer variations on implementation and services but also share commonalities in their proposed models. The winner will pay the amount of the second-highest bid, and money will be split either equally or proportionally between the losers, so that all applicants will receive a percentage of their initial investment back.[3] All applicants must agree to participate in a private auction model in order for it to proceed; otherwise, the contention set will be managed via ICANN's auction system.

Applicants also have to decide on when they wish to enter into private auctions. Those who withdraw their applications before ICANN posts its Initial Evaluation results will receive a 70% refund of their $185,000 application fee; those who wait until after the IE stage will only receive a 35% refund.[3]

Benefits of the private auction model include the following:[4]

  • Elimination of ICANN Process Delays: Resolving contentions externally allows for more efficient application processing.
  • Recovery of Funds: Non-winning bids receive a portion of the winning bid.
  • Partial Application Fee: Those who do not win their TLD may be eligible to receive a partial refund from ICANN, in addition to payouts from the winning bids.

Drawbacks of the private auction model include the following:[4]

  • Jurisdiction: Enforcement of agreements across jurisdictions could be challenging, particularly if a participant fails to make good on its agreement.
  • Funding: According to a CircleID article: "In the case where applicants have numerous strings in contention, a portion of the winning bid will be paid to non-winning applicants that can be used in subsequent auctions in which the winning bidder will be participating in. For example, if Company X is the winning bid for Auction A against Company Y and later, Company X and Company Y are in Auction B, Company Y now has additional funds received from Company X to use in Auction B."
  • Participation: All parties within a contention set must agree and participate.
  • Failure: If a bid is entered early and the winning bidder fails to pass ICANN's evaluation process, the string could go unclaimed.

Donuts co-founder Jon Nevett says that Donuts will handle as many of its contention sets as possible via this method, as auctions will be cheaper and faster for applicants than ICANN's original method. "The cost of losing an ICANN auction is greater than the cost of losing a private auction," Nevett said. "If you lose an ICANN auction you get nothing, zero, you lose your asset... [but with private auctions] it doesn't hurt as much to lose, so the theory is the second-place guys won't stretch as much."[5]

Right of the Dot

Right of the Dot suggests three models, though it stresses that it is a flexible consultancy with experience to work out unique remediation processes as well. The three auction models are an ascending clock model, a sealed bid, and a live auction. An ascending clock model, is they type to be used by ICANN in its last resort auctions and the only model offered by competitive provider Cramton Associates. Right of the Dot recommends the sealed bid auction, which sees each applicant submitting a sealed bid, the highest bidder wins and pays the amount of the second highest bid. It also recommends that the proceeds are not distributed evenly but proportionate with the bid made by each loser.[6] Live auctions are held in real time as bidders shout out or submit electronic bids. One of Right of the Dot's overall goals is to offer applicants "flexibility", and cater to the "desires of the participants".[7] In comments on a CircleID Post by new gTLD applicant Raymond King, Mike Berkens of Right of the Dot claims that their main opponent, Cramton Associates, is restrictive, writing: "the other auction solution is offered only during highly restricted time frames, and in a highly restricted manner, which we think was designed in mind with the those with largest number of applications." He goes on to say: "We believe that other auction solutions are overly complex and overbearing [which] we believe is more subject to game playing and over paying by winning bidders. We think each auction should stand on its own; each participant should know what their fees will be based on their own auction(s) not be based off auctions they are not participating in; and most importantly should be held at the time and in the manner in which the applicants to each string desire." Their flexibility is extended to the point that Right of the Dot offers to design unique auctions if requested by the applicants.[8]

Further options that the team will facilitate include giving the proceeds of the auction to a third party charity.[6]

Right of the Dot has partnered with to facilitate their auctions. The auction fees begin at 4% and depend on the auction model selected.[8]

The company is led by Monte Cahn and Mike Berkens, two very well-known domainers and industry veterans. They note that they have 17 years of domain auction knowledge and experience and have conducted tens of thousands of auctions. They emphasize their industry knowledge and personal connections are a unique asset that they bring to bear, and believe it will empower them to bring more applicants to the table compared to non-industry service providers.[7] Right Of The Dot has received an Auction Business License for Contention Resolution Services by the State of Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation for the exact purpose of: New TLD Contention Resolution and Consulting Services including Private Auction Services for competing applicants, Internet Domain Name Auctions, Sales, Brokerage, and Management Services.[8] Right of the Dot is not only offering auction services, but an entire full-service gTLD consultancy, from positioning the domain pre-launch to guiding it through managed and unique launch programs, identifying premium names for auction, later traffic and domain monetization, and beyond. They have secured a number of high-profile partners, such as Architelos, to assist them in their work.[9]

Cramton Associates

During ICANN 45 in Toronto, auction expert Dr. Peter Cramton outlined an "ascending clock" model, where a price is increased by the auctioneer at each stage; bidders and sellers can then either drop out or bid on the increased amount.[5] ICANN has identified the same style of auction for its own Auction of Last Resort.[10] At his presentation following the ICANN Draw in December, 2012, Dr. Cramton also also addressed a sequential first-price sealed bid, noting that the ascending clock model is still preferred given that it involves: better price discovery, better deposit management, reduced tendency to overbid, and is more consistent with the ICANN Auction of Last Resort.[11] He continues to defend his decision to exclusively offer one style of auction, as opposed to Right of the Dot's three options, by writing on CircleID, "Choosing an auction design is not a matter of taste, or of favoring one bidder over another. There is a whole field in economics concerned with determining what the best auction is for a particular situation. Thousands of scientific papers have been written on the subject and much has been learned from decades of study." He goes on to note that using an independent system and auction provider, uniform across auctions, takes away the need to negotiate the auction style between the parties and creates a more predictable playing field.[12]

Cramton's original model proposed to run auctions during the first quarter of 2013, before ICANN announced the results of their Initial Evaluation. Such a model would allow losing bidders to receive 70% back from their ICANN application fee, but would pose difficulties if winning applicants later discovered their applications were rejected as other applicants would have withdrawn already, and the new gTLD would be left without an owner. The former model also lumped all TLDs that an individual applicant had applied for in one package. Criticisms stating that such a model would benefit larger companies led to a change, so that auctions will now proceed on a TLD-by-TLD basis, with all auctions being simultaneously resolved at the same time.[5]Cramton has indicated that the final auction price will be made public, along with the winning bidder.[13]

The new proposal is to hold one set of auctions before Initial Evaluations are posted, with a commitment made before the end of February 2013 and the auction happening in March. The second auction would come after Initial Evaluations are posted with commitment made before the end of August, 2013 and auctions taking place in September. Mock auctions are held before the actual auctions.[11] Cramton Associates has subsequently planned for a third auction to be held around June 2013 for those contention sets that complete their Initial Evaluation early.[14][12] This plan is currently in flux given that ICANN announced in mid-January that the results of the String Similarity Panel would not be done until March 8th, a significant delay, and would thus the first Cramton auction may not be available until the end of March.[15]

Cramton and Associates have secured their fees at 1% for the first round, 2% for the second round, and 4% for the third round. There is a floor of $1 million USD and a ceiling of $5 million on the third round. The escalation of prices helps account for the higher cost of expenses due to offering multiple application rounds.[16]

Dr. Cramton has conducted research on auction theory and practice since 1983, and has facilitated a variety of high stakes auctions, including a large variety of government auctions for resource rights and distribution rights, with Cramton Associates.[17] Highlights from his high-profile and unique auction experience includes holding the world's first auction on greenhouse gas emissions in the UK in 2002, designing electricity and gas markets in Colombia, and leading the FAA process to auction airport runway slots for New York City airports.[18]

His slides from his most recent presentation on his auction plan, including results and analysis of a mock auction, can be found here.

Cramton Associates' model is preferred by the largest TLD applicant, Donuts.[19] Raymond King, applicant for 10 TLDs with Top Level Design expressed his favor for Private Auctions in general, and Cramton Associates specifically, in an opinion piece on CircleID.


In October 2012, the well-known industry aftermarket Sedo announced its availability for a variety of new gTLD services, including contention auctions. Further services include: Premium domain list identification and pricing; Sunrise, Landrush, and Premium auctions; Distribution via SedoMLS network, the world's largest domain distribution network; and premium domain brokerage and pre-brokerage, connecting domains with prominent buyers.[20]

Sedo is an international player, with prominent offices in Europe and North America; multilingual; and the world's largest domain marketplace.[21] Recent success stories include major consultations with the launch of the open ccTLD .co as a gTLD.[22]

There does not appear to be any direct information on the types of auctions preferred by Sedo available at this time, January 2013.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Economic Case for Auctions in New gTLDs, Published 8 August 2008. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
  2. ICANN, Make a Difference, Published 27 November 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
  3. 3.0 3.1 New gTLD applicants ponder private auctions, Published 14 November 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 gTLD Contention Set Auctions: Private Auction Alternatives, Published 3 December 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Here's how Donuts wants to resolve its 158 new gTLD contention fights. Domain Incite. Published 2012 October 23. Retrieved 2012 November 13.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Contention is Best Settle By Those Who Know the Players Industry, Published Jan 22, Retrieved Jan 24
  7. 7.0 7.1 Comments by Mike Berkens, Private vs. ICANN Auction of Last Resort, CircleID.comPosted jan 2 2013, Retrieved Jan 7 2013
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 gTLD Contention RightOfTheDot.comRetrieved 7 Jan 2013
  9. About, RightOfTheDot.comRetrieved 7 Jan 2013
  10. Applicant Auction in Brief, Cramton.umd.eduPublished 21 Nov 2012, retrieved Jan 7 2013
  11. 11.0 11.1 Cramton Applicant Auction Conference Slides, Cramton.umd.eduRetrieved Jan 7 2013]
  12. 12.0 12.1 Rationale for TLD Applicant Auctions to Resolve Strings, CircleId.comPublished 8 Jan 2013, Retrieved 8 Jan 2013
  13. email communication from Dr. Cramton 25 March 2013
  14. Draw and Applicant Auction, Cramton.umd.eduPublished 4 Dec 2012 Retrieved Jan 7 2013
  15. More on Private Auctions For New gTLDs, CircleID.comRetrieved 16 Jan 2013, Published 12 Jan 2013
  16. Rationale for TLD Applicant Auctions to Resolve String Contention,
  17. About,
  18. Home, 7 Jan 2013]
  19. Here's How Donuts Wants To Resolve its 158 Contention Fights, DomainIncite.comPublished 23 Oct 2012, Retrieved 8 Jan 2013
  20. Sedo Unveils Full Suite Services Launch Promote, BusinessWire.comPublished 10 Oct 2012, Retrieved 7 Jan 2013
  21. gTLD, Sedo.comRetrieved 7 Jan 2013
  22. Co Market Report.pdf, Sedo.comRetrieved 7 Jan 2013