Why? Because people in the industry love the challenge, the change. Every day is different, different people, different events. Nothing is ever the same. The industry is continually evolving; box offices are going away, the emphasis is more and more on the customer. Customers want recognition, an emotional connection to the events they are attending, the building has become less important than the event. They also want the experience to be seamless. Supporting this continually evolving industry is technology that is also continually changing.
At the recent InTix conference in Anaheim, one of the talked about technologies was RFID. Certainly not new, but one that has been growing in its usage for all sorts of entertainment and events. Following on with the objective of making the patron experience easy. RFID wristbands are being used to let patrons pay for meals, gain access to their rooms, buy snacks, pay for video games at resorts and more.
Given that the InTix conference was at Disneyland, a great example of the use of RFID wristbands is Disney resorts themselves. At Disney resorts the wristbands are being used to eliminate pain points for customers¹. Now every customer can feel like a VIP. Not so long ago you scanned the bar code on a physical ticket or badge to let ticket takers understand the level of the person they are working with, now this information can be read from their RFID wristband.
Every Customer is a VIP
RFID wristbands, contain a RFID chip and a radio, which is able to transmit a radio signal that can be picked up by receivers and devices such as a tablet or phone and alert hostesses, ticket takers or others, to information like who you are, where you are sitting, how many should be in your party, and any number of other details a patron has willingly made available to the event organizer. RFID can also be used as “tap” technology. In the case of Disney, by tapping your wristband, you can get in to the right ride line, or gain access to your room. But radio receiver usage is also being utilized.
For example, as soon as you walk in to a restaurant at Disney, from a few feet away, the hostess will receive an alert on her tablet or iphone app and will already know your name. There is part of that VIP feeling you will get! Upon entering you can choose your own table for you and your family. If you preordered your meal, the kitchen also received an alert, as soon as you entered, to get going on your food. When your food is ready, the server will know exactly where you are located, not by someone entering in to the restaurant system your table location, but rather by the system triangulating your location by picking up the signal from your wristbands and having the system automatically enter your table number in to the application. Giving new meaning to, “sit wherever you want” we will still find you!
The key to providing patrons with a customized experience is how much do you know about your patrons. How much data have they provided you with? But as attendees at a music festival, or visitors at a museum, how much do we want the event producers or venue owners to know about us? Do we want to give more information or not? Well it seems we are very willing to give information about ourselves when it enhances our experience, especially in ways that we do not expect.
The College Football Hall of Fame (CFBHALL) is a prime example of how facilities are changing the event user experience. Not only does it have highly interactive multimedia exhibits, but CFBHALL is also using RFID technology to create a very personalized visitor experience. One that it seems both college football fans and non-fans enjoy².
With an attraction like a museum, one issue is repeatability. How do you get visitors back in again? Constantly changing exhibits to keep it fresh and get people back in the door is certainly one option, but a very costly one. At CFBHALL, visitors can go there many times and never have the same experience. It may be debatable what is more costly to implement; RFID, with the media designs and software behind it and the hardware, versus building new physical exhibits. But no one can argue the number of “combinations” that would be available with a personalized RFID enabled exhibit.
What makes the Hall of Fame museum personalized? By asking users for a few pieces of information, including “which college football team do you support?”, the exhibits create a customized experience for each visitor. Interestingly enough the museum thought that if they got 20% of visitors to register themselves upon entry, they would be doing well. But in reality 96% of the people are registering when they come in to the museum (pre-registration is also now available).
As a visitor goes through the museum, from exhibit to exhibit, they are recognized, they will even be greeted with a, “Hello Bob!” The more information a visitor provides, the more personalized the experience. If you register not only the college football team that you support, but also your football team’s biggest rivalry you can see that information be used within various exhibits. For example in the newsroom. In that exhibit a visitor can be filmed giving the news that their favorite team has won the big game over their long standing rival. This video (and others that can be captured throughout the museum) are uploaded to a microsite that the user can then share with their friends. Certainly visitors can make their own videos and share them via their smartphones, but by having the museum do this capturing, they do not have to interrupt their experience in order to make the video. They can enjoy the experience, and get a higher quality video that they can share later. There is also a benefit to the museum in that they will know who is sharing what and where.
According to Robert E. Bready, Manager of Fan Experience at the College Football Hall of Fame, who spoke in January at the 2016 Intix conference in Anaheim, initially the downfall of having so many people register their ids when they came in to the museum was that there was a big backup getting people in the door. So many people wanted to register. In order to compensate for that the museum added in the ability to preregister your unique id before arriving to the museum, as well as added roving registration takers with tablets to help get visitors in to their experience faster.
Data point gathering can also help avert bottlenecks such as long lines for getting in to exhibits, long lines for bathrooms, for concessions and more. By gathering these types of data points event organizers can better manage potential bottle neck areas, help reduce those long lines, and even know if a patron has stood in line too long and help turn that negative experience in to a positive one by sending coupons for drinks, or making suggestions of where to go where there is less of a line. Using the data gathered can make a better experience for everyone.
Sponsorship and Funding
Another by-product of tracking all of those data points; how much time a visitor or patron is spending in a particular location, how long they are viewing an exhibit, how many people come through a particular exhibit, etc., is that this data can be used to help price sponsorship and advertising dollars.
If using RFID can create such a special experience for a museum dedicated to College Football, a sport which already had a huge and avid fan base, and can create an experience that is both exciting and entertaining for both fans and non-fans, what can it do for other museums which may not have that built in fan base? Such as natural history museums or science museums. The places that parents want to take their kids, and where they want their kids to learn something from but from the kid’s point of view, may not be the most exciting. What could implementing this technology do for those kind of museums or National Parks? If you can put kids in to the middle of the signing of the declaration of independence, or in to life as a prisoner at Alcatraz, and more. Funding for this is another matter of course, but tracking more what visitors are actually doing at these locations may help bring in those needed dollars. In any case using this tech is certainly the future of many museums and educational venues, not just the well-funded ones.
Cross-over to the Payment World
Gaining steam over the last few years has been the use of RFID wristbands at music festivals³. It makes for a faster pass thru at the gate, helps eliminate fraud at the gate by eliminating paper tickets, makes it easier to see who belongs and who doesn’t by using hard to duplicate wrist banks, as well as it makes it easier to leave cash behind.
Lollapalooza began using its Lolla Cashless in 2014?, but other festivals have been experimenting with RFID to eliminate cash for years. As long as users opt-in before going to the festival and enter their credit card information they can use their RFID wristbands to pay for food and drink at the festival, helping to grease this friction point, i.e. food and beverage lines (ala Disney as well). Gust Pay, has been used at other festivals to let festival goers load money quickly via their mobile apps to their wristband and use that for payment for food and swag throughout the festival?. This methodology lets the users control their spend easier by requiring the user to make the decision to add x amount of money to their account associated with the wristband, versus having the wristband account connected directly to your bank account.
What can we expect to see more of in the future, is the use by event organizers and producers, of RFID receivers to pick up the location of attendees and push to them messages and emails as they move around events. To let patrons know what is available nearby. To push to them coupons for food or memorabilia that can be purchased nearby, or base the messages on purchase that the patron has already made and push to them messages about relatable purchases that can be made. i.e., if you like
that t-shirt, you are going to love this one which is available over here and here is a coupon for 15% off if you buy it today.
A byproduct of the additional data that is gathered to make RFID work smoothly is that now event producers, event owners, those in charge of fan experience, etc., now have much more data on their patrons. Big data is nothing new either, but the mounds of data now available make it perfect for a separate discussion on how this data can be used. Another related topic around the recurring theme of data collection and more data collection, is how intrusive this may seem to patrons. Part of this data is of course given freely by users, but part of the data provided can be considered, quasi-given freely. The data about where you are located, how long you spend at a particular location, etc., is more or less granted to the event owner because you bought the ticket. But what about technologies such as facial recognition. Simply by attending an event, are you agreeing to have your face scanned? Do you want to give that data away? How will events be using this information in the future? Also another interesting topic to explore in a future discussion.
Summary on RFID
No technology discussion is ever complete without looking at the benefits of using this tech, for the different types of users. Benefits will vary based on the type of event or venue of course, but there is a lot of crossover. A good summary list is as follows.
Benefits for the producers, for the venue:
– Start to build that connection and excitement for an event by sending a RFID wristband, this connection was lost with the advent of online ticket purchasing,
– Memorabilia that fans use to show their loyalty and thereby promote your events and your brand,
– Reduce bottlenecks at the gate,
– Gather data points on peak entry hours, number of people lining up at concessions and other points throughout the venue. The number of data points is endless. This data can be used for better management of events as well as for pricing things like sponsorship,
– Reduce bottlenecks at product sale points (food and beverage and SWAG), byproducts are selling more goods and better tracking of stock,
– Better security, reduce ticket fraud
Benefits to visitors/patrons:
– Start to get excited and involved in an event before it even starts, start social sharing,
– No need to bring cash,
– Less worry about losing a wristband over the course of multi-day events, versus using a paper ticket,
– Get in fast, faster service at product points,
– Cool memorabilia,
– Personalized experience.