Bitcoin Bowl and the Disruption of Fiat Currency

On the day after Christmas the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the University of Central Florida Knights will square off in the Bitcoin Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In several short years few will recall the game itself, especially not those on the Trop's Party Deck. But, historians will note that 2014 was the year that a major American college football bowl game was named for a post-national cryptocurrency associated with techno-libertarians and anonymous transactions.

As much as it sounds like the premise of a near future, science fiction novel, it is happening.

And, why not?

The Bitcoin Bowl is a perfect end to 2014, the year that "the future" happened. After all, 2014 was the year in which American retailers started selling 3D printers, the U.S. Navy began mounting lasers on its ships, humans landed robots on Mars and an asteroid, analysts began asking whether home based solar power could kill off American utilities, and state-sponsored hackers raided Hollywood.

It's only appropriate that we'd end the year with the Bitcoin Bowl. And it's quintessentially American to celebrate a new and disruptive technology with a televised sporting event from a massive, air conditioned arena in the subtropics.

While the student sections from NC State and UCF will party at the Trop, cheer for their team and hit the clubs in St. Pete, the real story will be how TV (in this case ESPN) educates Americans on bitcoin. In many ways this is Bitcoin's first TV extravaganza. And the available public opinion data (18 polls and counting from 2013-2014) suggests that most American viewers will be hearing about bitcoin for the 1st time. In May 2013 only 23 percent of Americans had heard of Bitcoin, much lower than in the UK (32 percent) and Argentina (38 percent). By March of this year, according to a Reason-Rupe online survey, only 19 percent of Americans had heard "a lot" or "some" about Bitcoin. But by May this number had increased to 37 percent in another online survey. And in May a survey sponsored by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors found 51 percent of Americans having at least some level of awareness of Bitcoin. All of this means that the Bitcoin Bowl itself will function as a basic awareness raising event.

Given the ample number of surveys on the subject, American public opinion on alternative digital currencies is fairly clear. Most Americans still haven't heard much of anything about Bitcoin. As with most new technologies, there is some skepticism and fear of the unknown. Those most aware of Bitcoin are most supportive of it and generally believe that it should be legal. But, those with little information on Bitcoin generally believe that it should be illegal. Many of these older, Middle-Americans may not be ready for horse and buggy fiat currency to be displaced by the sleek and somewhat mysterious Mercedes of 21st century crypto currency. But, despite current skepticism, survey research among American experts in IT (conducted by HP and the Ponemon Institute) "expect digital currencies to overtake paper currencies in the future." Bitcoin, or alternative digital currencies that come after it, may be the wave of the future. They are at least one alternative future.

And Bitcoin has a clear set of younger, future forward supporters. The Reason-Rupe research finds that "Millennials, Gamers, Independents and Libertarians say Bitcoin should be allowed."

But, it's fair to say that given its anonymous nature and use outside nation-state sanction, Bitcoin is viewed with some suspicion by many aware of it. In a November 2014 survey in the UK 28% felt that Bitcoin had a bad reputation compared with 13% saying that it had a good reputation. This is no doubt tied to a perception that those transacting in Bitcoin may be doing so in the shadow economy or for subterranean reasons. Of course, this may all be true, but as almost anyone in America might point out, criminals have been transacting in cash for a very, very long time.

Beyond current public opinion, alternative digital currencies like Bitcoin stand at the intersection of several critical trends:

1. The rise of tech-enabled individual power relative to the nation-state.
2. Technological disruption of industrial and pre-industrial systems like publishing, education and now currency.
3. The digitization of payments and their move online.

So enjoy the Bitcoin Bowl. Watch it on ESPN or enjoy the party at the Trop and cheer for the Wolfpack or the Knights. But mark this moment as another step in disruptive 21st century innovation. Because, when I take my seat at Tropicana Field, I'll have ringside seats on history. And when you tune in, you will too.