The Sacramento Kings are the latest mainstream organization to embrace Bitcoin payments, becoming the first professional sports franchise to accept the virtual currency.
Fans can now use Bitcoin to purchase merchandise from the team store, and will be able to buy tickets with the e-money starting March 1. The Kings are partnering with Bitpay, a startup that facilitates Bitcoin transactions, as owner Vivek Ranadive pushes to grow the team's use of technology, increase its social media presence and allow fans to go paperless.
Ranadive, the chief executive officer of TIBCO Software Inc., who established himself by digitizing Wall Street trading floors in the 1980s and 1990s, bought the Kings in May with the hopes of using big data and technology to establish the team and league into global brands. His ambitious plan has raised some eyebrows by focusing on India, Ranadive's country of birth. The Kings have launched a Hindi-language website, and count Indian development company the Krrish Group as one of its corporate sponsorship partners. This week, Ranadive and Kings center DeMarcus Cousins started an All-Star Game campaign targeting Indian voters. Some critics have doubted the ability to grow basketball in a country in which cricket is king, a feat the NBA itself has been trying to accomplish for years, but if anyone has the strategic vision and cultural understanding to do so, it's Ranadive.
Similarly, Ranadive is betting big on Bitcoin's future, despite the view of more conservative analysts that the currency is too young and volatile and follows a traditional path of speculative bubbles. The value of a Bitcoin ballooned from $100 in July to $200 in October to more than $1,000 this month, before receding somewhat to $850 this afternoon. Those kinds of jumps make the Kings' investment in Bitcoin a risky one, but because of the team's use of the intermediary Bitpay -- which avoids the price fluctuation by quickly converting the e-money into dollars -- the risk is placed solely on the fan.
Having organizations like the Kings place public faith in Bitcoin only serves to push it further into the mainstream, and increased confidence coupled with intelligent policy could help to stabilize the currency as the companies that accept it reap the benefits. After Overstock.com became the first major commercial outlet to accept the currency, sales skyrocketed, with almost $126,000 in Bitcoin transactions completed in just one day. Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne predicts that Amazon.com will soon follow suit, and some people wonder if the IRS will finally be forced to figure out how to handle the currency, which you can already use to pay your taxes.
So the next time you're in the market for a Rudy Gay jersey, consider yourself on the cutting edge of commerce should you choose to pay with Bitcoin.
(Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. Follow her on Twitter at @kavithadavidson.)