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A representation of the virtual cryptocurrency Bitcoin Show caption Australian Baseball League Perth Heat will appoint a chief bitcoin officer to facilitate the shift from dollars to bitcoin. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters
Baseball

The Heat says it is the first professional sports club in the world to ‘fully embrace’ bitcoin after partnering with a cryptocurrency payment company

Australian Baseball League club Perth Heat will pay its players in bitcoin, after partnering with a cryptocurrency payment company in a deal it claims to be a world first for professional sport.

Heat players and staff will be able to be paid in bitcoin from Friday, while the club is also expected to accept bitcoin payments for sponsorships, merchandise and ballpark concessions on game days.

“This is the first time a sports club has decided to go all in on a bitcoin standard,” the club’s CEO, Steven Nelkovski, told Guardian Australia.

The bitcoin payments were not mandatory, Nelkovski said, but all current employees of the club were on board with the scheme.

Should a player wish to opt out, they can still be paid in the traditional manner, with their salary transferred to Australian dollars and sent to their bank account as with any other direct debit process. There is also the option to be paid partially in bitcoin and traditional dollars.

“We are giving the players the freedom to decide what is best for their unique situation,” Nelkovski said. “The entire process is very similar to the traditional payments process with one added variable which is how much of their salary they would like to keep in bitcoin.”

Nelkovski said the deal did not need to be ratified by Baseball Australia, which has been supportive of the move. BA, the game’s national governing body, was contacted for comment.

A new position of chief bitcoin officer has been created by the club – filled by Patrick O’Sullivan – to facilitate the new operation and the shift of “the corporate treasury” from dollars to cryptocurrency.

“This is not a one-off purchase to hedge against future uncertainties or inflationary pressures,” said O’Sullivan. “The Perth Heat are embracing the reality that the future of money and corporate treasuries will live on the bitcoin blockchain.”

In a team statement, the Heat claimed it was the first professional sports club in the world to “fully embrace bitcoin and the Lightning Network for payment acceptance and payroll for staff and players”.

Several American sports stars are known to have elected to exchange a portion or all of their salary to bitcoin, but those payments were initiated by the players themselves, rather than from the top down.

The Heat are one of Australian baseball’s most successful clubs and have won four ABL championships since the formation of the league in 2010.

Nelkovski said he believed the sponsorship deal would enable the organisation to reach new levels of success both on and off the field.

“We firmly believe that the mindset that bitcoin imparts on network participants will be felt by our players, coaches, staff, and our loyal fanbase,” Nelkovski said.

The 2021-22 ABL season, which was initially scheduled to start on Thursday this week, was last month cancelled for the second straight year to due disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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