For more than a decade, it’s been well-established that if your TV broadcast features a fake website domain, you should buy that domain to (at the very least) prevent it from being exploited by somebody else. One particularly strong case of this was How I Met Your Mother‘s 2009 episode “Old King Clancy,” which referenced the site “canadiansexacts.org”; fortunately, the show bought that up and used it for its own purposes then, getting plenty of traffic from people who watched and discussed the episode (although it no longer appears to be active).
Well, Fox NFL pre-game show Fox NFL Sunday didn’t go that far. This Sunday, they ran a fake emergency alert (problematic enough, with ESPN getting fined by the FCC for just the misuse of an Emergency Alert System warning tone in a 2020 rebroadcast of a 2011 documentary, and with both ESPN and Viacom fined in 2015 for using EAS tones to promote a movie ad) about the Philadelphia Eagles. But that included a domain that they hadn’t purchased. And as per Colby Hall of Mediaite, someone else quickly bought it and used it for pro-Trump “Let’s Go Brandon” ads:
The “joke” URL was never registered, and so it was then immediately grabbed by a viewer, who then redirected all traffic to a pro-Trump website. It features a massive “Let’s Go Brandon!” banner and images of former President Donald Trump with Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and a picture of President Joe Biden before a photoshopped image of George Washington flipping him off. Are you with me? Weird times we are living in, for sure.
This weird and strange story was initially flagged by Emmy-award-winning meteorologist Geoff Fox, who first noted how the satirical use of the EAS will almost certainly lead to an FCC fine for Fox Broadcasting. He also noted the URL was officially registered at 12:21 PM on Sunday. The segment featuring the URL aired just two minutes prior, according to television transcript database TVEyes, which strongly suggests, of course, that the URL was not registered by anyone involved with the segment but by an eagle-eyed viewer eager to troll.
So to sum up this weird story? Fox Sports producers thought they did a clever segment evoking nostalgic EAS interruptions from viewers’ past. But not only did they seem to run afoul of FCC standards, but they also neglected to register the joke URL, which someone grabbed for political purposes.
It seems like a miss for Fox not just to register that domain and redirect it to FoxSports.com. But that’s only one of the many questions surrounding that ad, including the use of the EAS warning tone. (Which, if the recent FCC actions against ESPN and Viacom are any indication, is likely to lead to a fine for them.) Still, at least the website part of this could have been avoided if they’d registered the domain in advance.