College Bowl Naming Rights Grow One Bit(coin) At A Time

Much like the Internet, cell phones and "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," the newer generation of college football fans would be hard pressed to remember a time when college football bowl games did not come with naming rights deals.

As recently as the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the year-end CFB games were known by their traditional and iconic names, among the oldest being the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl.

In 2014, the first year of the new college football playoff series, naming rights deals to some 35 bowl games will top $100 million, according to industry analysts. That includes the Rose Bowl presented by Northwest Mutual, Nokia Sugar Bowl, SBC Cotton Bowl Classic and the Chick-fil-A (Peach) Bowl.

Also in the mix: the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Hyundai Sun Bowl, the GoDaddy Bowl and, courtesy of the bearded brethren at "Duck Dynasty," the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.

Joining the ranks for the first time is a company that has the current generation of college football fans at heart and in their virtual wallets.

Last month, BitPay, an Atlanta-based firm that processes payments for the virtual currency known as bitcoins, worked with ESPN Events to acquire naming rights to what had been the Beef O'Brady's Bowl and what for the next three seasons will be the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl, played in Tropicana Field.

As it turns out, it was one of the current generation of football fans who helped inspire the company to make the investment, according to BitPay vice-president of marketing, Stephanie Wargo.

Last December, during a telecast of ESPN's "College GameDay Built By The Home Depot," a student was seen in the background holding up a sign that read, "Mom please send . . .'", followed not by the traditional amount of dollars he needed but instead by the bitcoin logo and a QR code to his personal bitcoin account. Over the next weeks, the kid received more than $23,000 in bitcoin currency to his account.

That led to serious naming rights conversations initiated by Tony Gallippi, BitPay's co-founder and CEO, which ultimately became a deal with ESPN and the St. Petersburg Bowl Committee. Financial terms in dollars or bitcoins were not revealed.

"Our demographic tends to be young, male, tech-savvy and well-educated, the same as the early users of the Internet and e-mail," said Wargo. "So there is a tremendous synergy between us and college students."

BitPay, which also has a deal with the NBA's Sacramento Kings and processes the account for rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson that accepts bitcoins as payment for his just-released album, “Animal Ambition,” plans a total bitcoin takeover for Tampa-St. Petersburg surrounding the game this Dec. 26.

"We are working with the St. Petersburg Bowl committee and local merchants, setting up iPads and tablets and downloading apps to their phones, to make it as easy as possible for them to accept bitcoins for payment," said Wargo. "That would include tickets, hotel rooms, hot dogs, T-shirts and other items."

Expedia, Dish Network and are among the companies that accept bitcoins as payment, so why not college football. In fact, the event is being called the Bitcoin Bowl rather than the BitPay Bowl "in order to have other members of the bitcoin community be part of it and showcase what they do as part of the bitcoin network," said Wargo.

If nothing else, BitPay knows how to energize what analysts see as a growing category but one that has to focus on education and adaption to get mainstream consumers involved. This past weekend, The North American Bitcoin Conference in Chicago, which featured executives and industry leaders from across the bitcoin community, was kick-started by a party the House of Blues sponsored by BitPay.

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