Web mogul: Nashville brand 'huge' globally, not for sale
By Milt Capps Last Updated 5:57 p.m.
David Castello, COO of the firm that owns the coveted Nashville.com Web address, says he has no intention of selling the Web property.Castello reminded VNC yesterday that his company – Palm Springs, Calif.-based Castello Cities Internet Network Inc. (CCIN) – has for months been beefing-up its Nashville staff to leverage worldwide the Nashville.com brand, which CCIN acquired in 2003.
He stressed that CCIN is not a domain squatter that registers and then "parks" websites until they can be resold at a large profit.
Nashville.com was originally owned by Ben Cunningham (at right), the founder of The Nashville Exchange Inc., one of Nashville's first Internet service providers. In 1999, Cunningham sold both the company and Nashville.com address to then-Kentucky-based Duro Communications Inc., which held the property several years before selling it to an interim owner.
On deadline for this story, CCIN could not immediately identify the former owner from whom they bought Nashville.com seven years ago.
After checking with his brother, Castello said they believe "the seller's first name was Phillip and he had a doctorate in chemistry... This transaction happened very quickly. We were shocked to learn that such a major US city brand as Nashville.com was available as late as July 2003 and we wired the money to [the seller], right away."
Castello said purchase of Nashville.com proved pivotal for CCIN: Since then, the company hasn't made another such acquisition, choosing instead to focus its resources on developing the sites it already owns.
Castello would not tell VNC what his firm paid for Nashville.com, but said, "At the time, people thought we paid too much, and now it's worth at least 20 or 30 times what we paid for it," adding he estimates the asset is worth up to $40 million, today.
He acknowledged he would love to wrest control of another Tennessee site – Memphis.com – from its owner, Dan Pulcrano, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded Boulevard New Media.
Meanwhile, Castello insisted that he and his brother – both of whom were raised in New York City and spent several years as Rock performers – would naturally "rather have 'Nashville', rather than 'Tennessee', because Nashville is a much bigger brand worldwide" than is the state's name. (Tennessee.com is owned by Local Guides LLC, based in Utah.)
Castello offered as evidence of CCIN's commitment toward genuinely developing Nashville.com the fact that in the past six months the company struck a deal with former WSM-4 and WZTV-17 weatherman Tim Ross (at left) to produce a bit of music-industry content for the site; and, has retained sportswriter Matt Field to post his take on Sports, which has thus far produced mainly items about the Predators and Tennessee Titans.
During a phone interview while he was motoring on the West Coast, Castello stressed that he knows from industry-data sources that "more people know Nashville than know most cities in the United States."
The city's name recognition translates into real upside: Although Castello would not discuss details, he noted that ReMax International has a category-exclusive advertising deal with CCIN's Nashville.com, and that single ad contract generates more revenue than CCIN paid to acquire the Nashville Web address.
CCIN owns more than 1,100 web addresses, and Castello said Nashville is one of about 450 properties CCIN considers "battleship" addresses, i.e., strong brands that can attract direct traffic.
He said such strong brand-addresses gain audience without relying heavily on search-engine intermediaries, because so many consumers browsing the Web purposefully or instinctually point their browsers toward Nashville when looking for the increasingly well-known city, or when exploring Country music and other goods and services associated in consumers' minds with Nashville.
CCIN specializes in owning and developing geo-centric and generic domain names. Their portfolio includes what CCIN describes as "globally recognized brands," such as Daycare.com, PalmSprings.com, Whisky.com, Rate.com, Acapulco.com, Driven.com, Suntan.com, GolfClub.com, Seasons.com and Traveler.com.
Castello, 53, said he and his CCIN CEO and brother Michael are considered thought leaders in the web-domain development industry, and CCIN is a member of the Commercial and Business Constituency (CBC) of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an oversight body.
Ben Cunningham, meanwhile, is better known today for his anti-tax activism and his blogging via such forums as TaxingTennessee.com.
Cunningham is also press spokesperson for Tennessee Tax Revolt Inc. and is active in several Tea Party groups of conservative activists. ♦