From the Beijing Olympics to Arsenal's North Bank stand, RFID technology is proving its worth at sporting events

Summer is here, and this year it comes with a slew of sporting events. Wimbledon has come and gone, as has Euro 08, but this summer's main event is the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing.

Demand for tickets has outstripped supply, and in order to combat fraud and tighten security, the organisers are using RFID-embedded tickets to control piracy concerns and speed-up entry into venues. But this is not a one-off occurrence for a prestige occasion; more and more organisations are turning to RFID-ticketing.

The identification of people and objects is a growing factor in our lives, and technology has made it simpler for us to control identification, tracking and security. RFID technology is rapidly bringing us contactless smart card technology, which can offer multiple benefits across many markets.

"For sports and music venues and all kinds of events, RFID systems streamline ticket issue and validation, minimising ticket fraud," says Tony Revis of Extech Data Systems. "Tickets can be created on demand and then read remotely to increase throughput at entrances. A hands-free access system for ski-lifts, based on RFID, is used at many ski resorts in Europe, improving customer service and efficiency of operations by remote-operated gates detecting valid ski passes to open automatically. The credit-card sized pass can be read in the pocket, so it never has to be displayed."

Although there are different standards within the RFID field, the ticketing 'arena' has already reached standardisation, as Martin Gruber, marketing manager at NXP Semiconductors explains.

"There are multiple standards, but for all proximity applications involving people and public transport, etc., we have a specific standard," he says. There's a long read range global standard for transport, logistics and other such areas, but for e-ticketing, the air interface of smart media is specified in ISO/IEC 14443. This provides the basis for infrastructure and multi-applications."

However, although the diffusion of this technology is now becoming mainstream, the companies working with this technology have met obstacles.

"It wasn't clear to the organisers how they could benefit from the technology," Gruber adds. "There were not many conferences on e-ticketing in the past and so we found it was most important to highlight the benefits to the organisers."

Another issue they had to face was that of cost. At first look, e-ticketing is more expensive than other solutions - such as magnetic strip or barcode technologies - however, one has to consider the total cost of ownership: scalability via multi-application, efficiency increase of system, reduction of fraud, and reduction of maintenance costs. The business case is always related to the selling price of the ticket, however, when looking at the bigger picture, organisers can see that the pros far outweigh the cons.

The Beijing Olympics are the prime example. RFID ticketing gives China the opportunity to take a huge stride against ticket counterfeiting. The nation is known as one of the biggest producers of fake/imitation goods in the world, but the move to RFID will prevent ticketing piracy and stop what could have been a major loss of revenue for the Chinese economy.

Developed by Tsinghua University and Beijing Tsinghua Tongfang Microelectronics Company, the RFID chip used in the tickets reportedly features a minimum size of 0.3mm2 and 50 microns thickness. Embedded into paper, it can be used to identify goods from 5m away.

China can boast a wide range of RFID application projects in e-ticketing, transportation ticketing, animal tagging, anti-counterfeiting, real-time location systems (RTLS), asset tracking, and contact-less payments. According to ABI Research, their combined total market revenue in 2008 will reach nearly $1.4bn. "We could sell over 12 million e-tickets for the Beijing Games," says Michael Liard, research director at ABI. "The World Expo could create demand for nearly 70 million e-tickets."

RFID gets a lift

Another positive example of RFID ticketing integration comes from the Alta Ski Area's modernisation of its lift ticket and chair access systems.

Barcoded lift tickets would have been a significantly lower investment, but the ticketing systems on the market offered more value to skiers in terms of convenience, as well as to Alta's operations.

"We felt RFID would be more reliable than barcodes," Michael Maughan, Alta's chief financial officer said at the National Ski Area Associations 2008 National Convention and Tradeshow, "and we felt better about RFID in terms of security."

Barcodes can get badly damaged in a skiing environment, but research undertaken showed that RFID tickets can be read quickly and reliably, whether by employees using handheld interrogators, or by fixed-position readers mounted in automated turnstiles, which allows for lower staffing levels. As the early adopters have proven its success, the benefits are much clearer to organisers and take up is growing.

"It has improved how organisations deal with data and security, the management of people going in and out and access to the event," Gruber avers. "You can use RFID to control when and how many people get in, and how people get into VIP areas."

 Gruber continues: "You can also stop misuse of ticketing, as everyone will have their own personal details on their ticket. For example, you could use a lighting system - a child's ticket turns a checkpoint light red, and an adult's ticket turns it green. You won't get a 50-year-old using a child's ticket."

It also increases speed, freeing up more time, Gruber points out: "With a paper ticket you have to look at the person, look at the ticket, confirm it's theirs, etc. With a contactless ticket the technology does all this for you."

Loyalty rewards

Indeed, with RFID popularity escalating, this year event organisers are taking things further by considering the multiple-applications approach: smart-card technologies (such as NXP's MIFARE) provide ways to better accommodate guests, from access control to events, and additional services such as loyalty applications to electronic purse capabilities on a single smart card or electronic ticket.

It is possibile to enhance customer relations through loyalty programmes. Football clubs, for instance, will be able to use the data from these cards productively. They will know how often fans attend games, what time they arrive, the kinds of food, drink, and merchandise they buy, and they can reward them in a knowledgeable way. Manchester City and Real Madrid are two football clubs already using RFID extensively for stadium ticketing.

In addition, using a card/ticket with such technology will allow people to stock up with 'credit', resulting in quick, contact-less payment when buying food and drink for example. Also, they can use
such a process to access and pay for a car park spot or public transport on their way to an event, both improving and speeding up the interaction and transaction processes.

Further information

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles