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Sacramento Kings First Sports Team to Enter Bitcoin Arena

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With the digital currency Bitcoin making inroads with nationally known merchants like Zynga and Overstock.com, a professional sports enterprise has decided to take its best shot.

The National Basketball Association's Sacramento Kings franchise has become the first major professional sports team to accept payments via Bitcoin, the payment processor BitPay announced Thursday.

The team is already accepting bitcoins to purchase merchandise at the team's shop at Sleep Train Arena, and by March 1 it will begin accepting the currency as online payment for merchandise and tickets. The purchases will be processed by BitPay, which bills itself as the world's largest payment processor for virtual currencies.

"We definitely expect this to be a trend with other franchises," says BitPay's vice president of marketing, Stephanie Wargo. Other sports teams have contacted BitPay about using its service, she says. (BitPay receives bitcoins on a merchant's behalf and immediately remits the equivalent in dollars, protecting its customers against the notorious volatility in exchange rates. It charges a fee for this service of around 1%, which is lower than the 2% to 3% merchants typically pay to accept credit cards.)

The Kings did extensive research on Bitcoin, and BitPay didn't have to sell the NBA franchise on the service, as talks regarding a partnership took less than a week, Wargo says. "They were really on the ball. … They wanted it and they were very forward thinking."

The Kings hope the technology makes for faster and more secure purchases for consumers. Since his purchase of a majority stake in the Kings this year, Vivek Ranadivé has hyped a business philosophy dubbed NBA 3.0. The Kings say the BitPay relationship is the latest manifestation of NBA 3.0, which focuses on investments in technology, globalization of the sport and community partnerships.

"We are maniacally focused on creating the most seamless experience for our fans in all facets," Ranadivé said in a press release. "With BitPay, we are able to implement a technology that allows our fans to make Kings-related purchases without physically reaching into their wallets."

As of Thursday evening, the Kings' cheapest tickets on the ticket exchange website StubHub for a Friday night game against the Indiana Pacers were listed at 0.04 bitcoins, or $33.90.

Ranadivé is also chief executive of TIBCO (TIBX), a developer of business intelligence software.

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