RADIO FREQUENCY identification (RFID) has been enjoying a steady growth in popularity amongst event organisers, primarily as part of smart access control and for cashless transactions.
With the technology continuing to evolve and improve, could we now be about to witness something of a watershed moment?
“Without doubt the requirement of RFID has blown-up in the past 12 months,” suggests Craig Bennett, head of growth at ID&C, which has been working in the access control sector since 1995.
The company introduced the UK’s first fabric wristband at Glastonbury in 1999 and today provides a whole range of accreditation products such as lanyards, laminate passes and ID cards including those with RFID, Near Field Communications (NFC) and other technologies to help enhance both organisation and the audience experience.
“We, amongst others, thought leaders in the RFID event space have been touting the tipping point for a number of years now,” Bennett notes. “Needless to say, we are now seeing the floodgates open, rather than predicting it.
ID&C, which stands for Identification & Control, is wary about naming its clients, since it is a security company at its core, but it works with many of the country’s major events, as well as across mainland Europe and in the US.
“One of the trends we’re seeing in the RFID space is organisers using the technology at the heart of their operation, rather than just a bolt-on service,” says Bennett. “Organisers are seeing the revenue, security and customer satisfaction benefits the technology is capable of bringing.
“For ID&C, this means we need to ensure our wristbands are not only compatible with any RFID/NFC system, but are versatile and durable enough to be used at any type of indoor, outdoor, single day or camping event. Thankfully, the British weather regularly helps us put our products under some serious durability testing.” At PlayPass the offering covers RFID services including access control, cashless payments, accreditation and crew management at music festivals and other live events across Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and Australasia, says UK business development director Steve Jenner.
The company, whose headquarters are in Antwerp, Belgium, serviced over 200 festivals and events in 16 countries during 2017.
“RFID is no longer just about increasing on-site spend or getting people in faster, there are many other gains to be had”
For Jenner, an increasing shift towards more sophisticated applications of the technology, beyond simply getting people into an event, suggests that the market in general has gained confidence and familiarity with RFID.
“We are finding ourselves delivering ever-more creative, integrated and intelligent requirements,” he explains. “Event organisers are starting to view RFID less as a stand-alone system that sits alongside their other operations and more as a platform that can feed into and enhance everything else they do, and the sky is the limit.
“RFID is no longer just about increasing on-site spend or getting people in faster – there are many other gains to be had. Once a client has used our system for one or two editions [of an event], their focus becomes set on making refinements to maximise the gains they are experiencing.”
And it’s not just event organisers that are looking to benefit from the use of such technologies.
Glownet creates frictionless, secure and optimised experiences across access control, cashless payments, crew management, social media activations, loyalty programmes and customer insight solutions, says the company’s Scott Witters.
Its platform has been successfully deployed at over 500 events globally including Lollapalooza Argentina (cap. 90,000) and Sonar Barcelona (60,000) in Spain. Witters points to ticketing companies using tech to stay connected to consumers after purchase.
“We have seen an emerging battle for the end-user longer-term,” he explains. “Ticketing companies have started to realise that there is a lot of value to be gained by extending the end-user relationship beyond the online space. They have adopted access and cashless platforms in order to hold on to the relationship on-site.
“Additionally, production companies, catering providers and brands have started to explore the loyalty opportunities in the festival space. Cashless is the ultimate tool to get a better understanding of the user and their behaviour. It provides vital data insights to offer a personalised experience to the user and build long term loyalty.”
Witters agrees that this sector of the live music business has seen something of a boom in recent years.
“The industry is at a defining moment. When we first introduced the system over five years ago, it was a novelty. It is amazing to see the growth the market and Glownet has seen over the years. We are incredibly proud to have reached the 500-event milestone. It is a clear sign that adoption is accelerating.”
Despite big strides forward as far as the uptake of RFID and other tech for access control and beyond is concerned, Steve Jenner argues that the UK has been lagging behind for some time.
“In my 18 years of bringing new technologies to the festival sector, there has never been a greater win-win value proposition than RFID, given its ability to not only give visitors a much better experience, but also yield significant cost savings and generate revenues that far eclipse the costs of implementation,” he says.
“So why isn’t is already being used as standard in the events sector? Well, outside of the UK it is. Here, the market has been held back by some lingering misconceptions – ‘It might crash’, ‘My traders won’t like it’, ‘My audience won’t like it’, ‘We’ll lose money’ – re-enforced by some unfortunate early failures by providers that no longer exist.
“We realised the only way to overcome this was to start working with the most progressive, enlightened event producers who could see the wood for the trees, in the belief that the rest of the market would eventually cotton-on to the gains being made.”
Head of sales at Wrist Marketing, Rory Musker, also urges festival organisers to be wary of newcomers without the necessary level of expertise trying to break into the access control market
The company offers turnkey solutions for ticketing, registration, dynamic access control and more, through RFID wristbands and cards for a range of event types, as well as Tyvek, fabric and vinyl bands.
Events such as Lovebox (30,000) and Kendall Calling (25,000) are among its clients.
Musker agrees there has been a wider adoption of RFID technologies with “a move to optimise events in terms of engagement and data gathering, as well as an ongoing requirement to drive down costs.”
But he warns that, “as RFID tech becomes more understood and popular by event managers, promoters and so on, there’s a danger of engaging companies that do not fully understand the technology and how to deploy the services.
“That leads to very unhappy and disappointed customers who then shy away from ever going near RFID again,” he says.
Over at Intellitix, one of the longest-established operators in the UK, director of growth and acquisition marketing Milan Malivuk echoes the concern that instances of poorly implemented access control can have a negative knock-on effect for the wider sector.
“We’ve seen more and more imitators popping up, starting RFID event companies and selling into the market,” he says. “However, without experience and often with a half-baked system, they’re doing more harm than good.
“This gives everyone the impression that RFID or cashless is the problem, when it’s a matter of people who have no business deploying something on this scale without the experience.
Intellitix has plenty of happy clients to point to, including America’s Lollapalooza (100,000), Belgium’s Tomorrowland (65,000) and Austria’s Snowbombing (6,000).
“But it’s still a challenge in some initial discussions with potential new clients that have only heard about ‘that one event that went cashless and it was a disaster’,” says Malivuk.
Still, in some ways, event organisers are being forced to look at implementing more sophisticated systems at the point of entry, particularly with recent atrocities such as the London and Manchester terror attacks in mind.
“We’ve seen security come to the forefront of a lot of conversations, unfortunately spurred by too many recent tragic events,” says Malivuk. “Some of this is coming from the event talent themselves these days. We’re being asked to make sure the right people are being let in and the wrong people kept out more and more often.”
Of course, access control doesn’t necessarily have to be charged by technology. For festivals at the smaller end of the market, who are trying to keep their overheads down, cost can be a prohibitor.
This is the kind of customer that David Daly is aiming to serve with his newly formed FabricBands.com, which was set up last summer.
“We’re in the early stages at the moment, and most of the large operators are happy with what they’ve got,” he says. “But there are more and more festivals around these days and we’re hoping to start off with some of the more local events.
“For big festivals, RFID is great, but there are still a lot of small and medium-sized festivals that don’t need it. They’re all quite price conscious and don’t need anything as glamorous as contactless solutions,” Daly explains. “Plus, I think fabric wristbands are a great advertising tool, because they last and people wear them for a long time after the event.”
Whatever the method, the ultimate goal of anyone working in access control is to reduce queue time and get people through the gate.
“They say that first impressions are the most important,” ID&C’s Craig Bennett points out. “Getting people in quick and without issue is paramount to kick-starting a good festival experience. RFID is certainly a contributing factor in making this a reality for any
But the truly exciting moments for punters and events organisers alike will surely come from new and interesting ways that technology is seamlessly integrated and utilised throughout the event, or even before fans reach the gates.
As Malivuk suggests, “The best events in the world are thinking about the journey of attendees as not just beginning once they get in through the gate, but even when they’re waiting in line – having performers out there, artwork and so on.
“Cashless is the ultimate tool to get a better understanding of the user and their behaviour”
“Making sure that the spirit of the festival is present in each and every aspect of your event, including the process of entering it, sets the mood for the event and keeps people in the right mindset to enjoy themselves.
“We’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of event entrances and one thing that really stands out is just how much of a difference there is between a well planned and executed ingress, versus one which was cobbled together.
PlayPass’s Steve Jenner adds, “Our philosophy can be summarised in one statement – the better the customer experience, the more value RFID will yield for the event.”