MLS team first to accept Bitcoins at stadium: marketing tool or business decision?

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

Starting next week, the San Jose Earthquakes—San Jose’s own MLS team—will allow fans to pay for tickets, merchandise and concessions at their games using Bitcoins, becoming the first professional sports team that accepts Bitcoin inside a stadium.

Taking a page from its surrounding tech community, San Jose Earthquakes President Dave Kaval said “[we] are constantly looking for ways to innovate” with this latest move.

Bitcoins are a form of digital currency created and held electronically that are decentralized and not controlled by any one bank, institution, exchange, or organization. The currency is also considered anonymous and transparent in the way each Bitcoin stores details of every transaction on a ledger called a block chain.

You’ll need a digital Bitcoin wallet on your computer or an online, web-based service, like Coinbase Inc., in order to store and make payments with your Bitcoins.

Coinbase Inc. will be the very outfit that partners with Buck Shaw Stadium—home of the San Jose Earthquakes—to develop the in-stadium infrastructure necessary to accept Bitcoins at kiosks and concession stands. Coinbase is the platform that enables and Square to accept Bitcoins, among other merchants.

Coinbase is also working with the Sacramento Kings this year who became the first professional sports franchise that accepted Bitcoins for purchases on the team’s online store and game tickets.

A New Kind of In-Game Purchase

Bitcoin is more suited to buying goods and services online, but physical establishments that accept Bitcoin do exist. Coinmap maintains a worldwide database of establishments that accept Bitcoin.

While the number of physical establishments that accept Bitcoins is extremely limited, Buck Shaw Stadium wants to be the first venue to accept in-stadium purchases with the virtual currency.

Imagine purchasing your beer and hot dog in-person with “money” not backed by any central bank, but a mere digital chain of 1’s and 0’s that holds value because someone in the market says it does.

A market, no less, that can fluctuate wildly with $10-$20 swings day-to-day:

Price of a Bitcoin

US Treasury calls Bitcoin a decentralized currency.  The IRS calls it property, not currency.  The SEC hasn’t called it anything (but labels it super risky).

The San Jose Earthquakes are now asking: what would a sports fan call it?

Marketing Tool or Business Decision

On its face, Kaval’s move appears to be a marketing tool intended to generate buzz for his MLS team.

If the experiment is enough to put a few hundred extra people in the stadium just to experience this kind of transaction, the costs of rigging the stadium’s merchandising platforms to accept Bitcoin could pay for itself.

However, if the move truly engages their fan base in a unique way that eventually attracts new, forward-thinking sponsors who want to pony up fresh dollars to be a part of progressive in-stadium advertising campaigns, then the Earthquakes no doubt are making a shrewd business decision that’s the first of its kind.

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