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Madeira Beach positioned for Bitcoin Bowl spotlight

— Bringing the annual beach party for the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl game to Johns Pass means big publicity and big dollars flowing into Madeira Beach, city leaders say.

Actually, organizers hope many of those dollars will be spent using the trendy new digital currency, which merchants are being encouraged to accept alongside credit or cash during events surrounding the postseason college football game.

After winning a bid to move the pregame beach festival from St. Pete Beach to Madeira Beach, the city commission last week passed a resolution naming their beachfront community the “first official bitcoin city in the world.”

To back up that claim, representatives from the bowl game’s new sponsor company, BitPay, are pushing business owners to use an online app that will allow patrons to pay for goods and services with bitcoin.

Atlanta-based BitPay, a bitcoin payment service provider, is looking to build up hype around the digital tender, offering to help businesses get the app running for free and also to exchange all bitcoin sales for cash with no fees.

“I don’t want to call it a marketing gimmick, but let’s call it what it is. We want Bitcoin Bowl and their beach bash and the universities checking out Madeira Beach for the next five years and I think this is neat way to return the favor in kind, not to mention additional publicity we may get from other [media] outlets,” Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford said at a commission meeting last week.

Last summer, ESPN Events announced BitPay as the new title sponsor for St. Petersburg’s postseason college football game held each year at Tropicana Field. The game previously was known as the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.

The City of Madeira Beach announced earlier this month the pregame party for the teams and their fans would be moving to the beach along Johns Pass on the south end of town.

The event will include beach volleyball, paddle boards, an alligator petting zoo and a series of competitions on land and in water.

In addition to drawing thousands of people who will be in the area for the game, video footage from the Beach Bash will appear during national broadcasts of the game — showing off the area to millions of viewers, city officials have said.

“To get the recognition we’re going to get from ESPN, with them shooting around the city, showing off our city… For the city, it’s outstanding,” Mayor Travis Palladeno said.

Working alongside officials at BitPay, the broader goal for the event is to create buzz around Madeira Beach embracing a somewhat obscure online payment method that slowly is gaining traction in communities around the world.

The so-called digital cash emerged about six years ago and allows users to pay merchants directly using a smart phone app, without going through a bank, BitPay representative John Dreyzehner told Madeira Beach residents at a recent town hall meeting.

A downside to the coin is that its value fluctuates. But BitPay has offered area merchants the opportunity to accept it from customers and then receive the exact dollar amount of the transaction back into their bank accounts.

“There is no risk you would not get the amount of money you needed,” Dreyzehner said at the meeting.

Ferg’s Sports Bar, Green Bench Brewing Company and the Amsterdam Bar in St. Petersburg are among the first area businesses that have opted to accept the currency, BitPay officials said.

In a tourism market like Pinellas County, Dreyzehner says bitcoin could take off because it allows foreign travelers to spend money without having to exchange currency.

“People anywhere in the world can use it. If you think of the internet as a country, bitcoin is its currency,” he said.

After BitPay officials fielded numerous questions from local business owners, Madeira Beach commissioner Terry Lister said he had receive a lot of positive feedback from the community about giving bitcoin a try.

“It put my mind at ease and I’m hoping it put some of the businesses’ minds at ease that this is not an unfunded mandate and it doesn’t cost the business anything to do,” Lister said.

“This is a fairly new venture that bitcoin has started. Nobody knows what the future holds,” he added.

Even if bitcoin flops in the long run, Crawford said, all the attention is bound to have a positive effect on local tourism.

“The marketing is priceless,” he said.

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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