It took ESPN over a year to learn it probably never should have crossed with one sports satirist.
Will Applebee, founder of the popular parody website “NotSportsCenter,” was the target of an ESPN lawsuit that went public last week after the court ruled in his favor. Applebee, who had a law degree to protect him against ESPN’s lawyers, opened up on his drawn-out legal battle with the Worldwide Leader over the rights to his “NotSportsCenter” website and social media accounts.
“I don’t know. They’re trying to insist that I’m infringing on their trademark, but they have nothing to prove,” Applebee,who launched a sports media career after leaving his job at a law firm in 2013 to care for his terminally ill grandparents, told The Post after the ruling was handed down.
“So to me, it’s like they just saw that I had become so popular, and they were like, ‘Well, let’s just smash this.’”
An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment on the case.
Applebee recalled the day in April 2016 when he received the first memo from ESPN, a cease-and-desist letter that he believes was in response to a trademark he applied for over his “NotSportsCenter” Instagram handle. After he decided to drop the trademark case in December and not respond to the letter he called “way over the top,” Applebee continued splitting time between his day job — as director of social media at start-up company “YourSports” — and his various sports parody accounts thinking whatever issue ESPN had with him had been resolved.
“I figured once that was gone, I was under the impression I was never going to hear from them again because I thought that was the only thing they really had a problem with,” he said. “Then all of a sudden on a Friday in April of this year, I get an email around six o’clock from a new lawyer.”
The reopening of the wound led Applebee back to his trademark attorney, who he said advised him not to respond — even as ESPN’s attorney was calling him every day — since that particular case was closed. Two months later, ESPN filed a complaint against Applebee’s “NotSportsCenter” website domain, and the real fight began.
“What had happened was I had had some issues with my website host and there was an error page up at the time, and I think they saw an opportunity to capitalize on it,” Applebee said. “So they filed this thing to try and take the domain away from me. At this point, I had no idea what their end game was.”
Hoping to put the conflict behind him, Applebee claims he wrote ESPN a settlement letter, offering to hand over his website domain in exchange for peace — and ESPN turned it down. On the last day they could respond, he recounted, the lawyer filed an additional 17-page letter rejecting his settlement, which Applebee had five days to answer.
“They threw the literal book at me at the last second to try to scare me into whatever,” he said. “I kicked the wall, swore, threw a fit for awhile, and then I pulled myself together and I filed a lengthy response of my own. Then they reviewed it for a couple of weeks, and then a couple days ago, I found out I won.”
What bewildered Applebee more than anything were the lawyers’ claims ESPN wasn’t aware of his parody website until they sent that first letter in 2016. The writer said several ESPN TV personalities follow his Twitter account — including Michelle Beadle, Jay Harris and Reese Waters — and various hosts have read his tweets on air at least five times.
While the ruling didn’t fully erase his concern ESPN will find a new way to target him, the Florida native finds reassurance in his victory.
“I don’t see how they can throw any more at this because there’s really nothing they can gain,” Applebee said. “Like, they’ve used two different law firms already. I thought that was pretty telling that the first law firm sent me that letter and then when I didn’t respond to it, they got away from it. …
“So I don’t know, I think I just got under somebody’s skin when I filed that trademark and they just wanted revenge or something.”
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