By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Sacramento Kings basketball team has become the first U.S. professional sports franchise to allow purchases using the unregulated online payment system Bitcoin, team officials said on Thursday.
Kings gear and other items are now available for purchase at the team's retail store using bitcoins, an online currency bought and sold on a peer-to-peer network independent of central authority, the franchise said in a statement.
Starting on March 1, Kings fans will also be able to purchase tickets and pre-order merchandise using the virtual currency, the statement said.
The Kings' managing partner, Vivek Ranadive, said the decision to accept bitcoins was part of a larger move by the Kings franchise toward becoming more technologically advanced, a process he called "NBA 3.0."
"We are maniacally focused on creating the most seamless experience for our fans in all facets," Ranadive said in a statement about his team's new ties with Bitcoin.
"A major tenet of the NBA 3.0 philosophy is about utilizing technology for the betterment of the fan experience, and this is yet another step in that process," he added.
Ranadive, a tech developer and philanthropist, leads a new ownership group that bought the Kings in May in a deal valuing the team at $535 million, following a tug-of-war with Seattle investors who wanted to move the team to the Pacific Northwest.
Since its launch in January 2009, the Bitcoin system has grown popular with people who lack confidence in the conventional banking system. It has also drawn concern over the potential for it to be used for money laundering.
Last month, ecommerce site Overstock.com announced its plan to become the first major U.S. retailer to accept the digital currency. Dating site OKCupid also allows bitcoins as a form of payment.
The Kings will partner with Bitcoin processor Bitpay to turn the virtual currency into cash for the franchise, Ranadive said.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)