Phil Luciano: Rays fan faces Web site fight
Chris Dunne's timing seemed perfect.
He picked the ideal time to set up a Web site capitalizing on the uncanny success of the Tampa Bay Rays. They've gone from baseball's worst team to the favorite to win the World Series.
The site, www.tropicanafield.com, leans on the name of the Rays' stadium. It lists hotels, eateries and other visitor information. It's making Dunne a little money, and at a crucial time: His family is facing tough financial and medical problems.
But PepsiCo Inc., which owns Tropicana Products, claims a trademark infringement. The company demands that Dunne hand over the site by Friday.
"We're trying to figure out what to do," Dunne says with a hint of nervousness.
Dunne, 41, graduated from Limestone Community High School in 1985. Though he moved to the Tampa area about 15 years ago, his parents and other kin still live in Bartonville. One of his cousins is Mike Dunne, the former Bradley University All-American and major-league pitcher who served as the Braves' pitching coach last season.
Chris Dunne grew up a Cubs fan but adopted the Rays as a hometown favorite as soon as the team threw its first pitch, in 1998. The team plays at Tropicana Field, a municipal dome owned by St. Petersburg.
Nine years ago, Dunne noticed tropicanafield.com had been unclaimed. He couldn't believe the Rays or the stadium hadn't snagged it first. So, he registered it for $8.
Dunne let the name idle until April. He'd launched an eatery, but it was flagging. He tried to tout the joint at tropicanafield.com, hoping to gain attention of baseball fans. Didn't work. The place closed.
In August, one of his two daughters, Samantha, 17, was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a debilitating digestive malady. Treatment has pushed past $70,000.
That's been hard on the family. Dunne runs a lawn-care business but has no health insurance. His wife has been off work, first helping with the restaurant, and now caring for their ill daughter. Their mortgage is in arrears.
So, in August he relaunched tropicanafield.com. He sells ads to pubs, ticket-sellers and others looking to do business with baseball fans.
"I'm not getting rich by any means," Dunne says. "But every little bit helps."
Not so fast, says PepsiCo. A cease-and-desist letter from the company's high-powered Chicago law firm says that Dunne's Web site name violates the Tropicana trademark. It says the public will be "deceived" into assuming a connection between the site and Tropicana.
In the real world, no one cares. But in the legal world, that means war.
Dunne's site does scream in big letters: "This Web site is not affiliated with PepsiCo or any of its subsidiaries." But that's not enough for PepsiCo, which wants Dunne to transfer the site to PepsiCo by Friday - or face legal action.
That's daunting to Dunne, who has no attorney.
"I can't afford it," he says. "They're just ungodly expensive."
Still, he has had a few feelers from lawyers interested in handling his legal work for free. Meanwhile, Dunne says he won't be bullied.
Come Friday, he says, the site will remain up. And remain his. PepsiCo and Tropicana can go suck an orange.
"I'm not gonna give it to 'em," he says.
Phil Luciano can be reached email@example.com or (309) 686-3155.