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RFID Technology Scores Ticketing, Brand Engagement at World Cup

All 4 million game tickets, as well as the Adidas Telstar 18 official World Cup balls, came with RFID tags built in, leveraging technology provided by HID Global, NXP Semiconductors and Smartrac.
By Claire Swedberg

The ball is intended to solve a challenge created by online shopping trends, in which consumer engagement with specific brands is more difficult since online retailers and social media often make suggestions for consumers about purchases, says Alexander Rensink, NXP's business-segment manager. For instance, Amazon's Alexa smart speaker, or various social-media sites, target consumers with products that they determine are the best selection for that consumer, leaving the brand out of the discussion. "Having NFC in a product opens up channels for brands that lead directly to the consumer," Rensink says.

The ball was used by players, and was also available for purchase by fans. When someone buys the ball, that individual can tap his or her mobile phone—either Android- or iOS-based—near the ball to be automatically connected to content and information from Adidas that is exclusive to those using that ball. The content includes information about the ball itself, as well as access to challenges that users can enter to compete with others around the world.

NXP's Alexander Rensink
At the same time, Adidas can collect data about the ball's location when its NFC tag is read, based on the GPS location of the phone being used, and can then share that location data with other users. Adidas is selling the ball online, and while the company has not released sales numbers, there are more than 100,000 ball users presently participating in the program.

The ball comes with a Smartrac Circus Flex inlay equipped with an NXP NTAG IC. The tag's thin structure and flexibility allow it to be directly embedded into balls like the Telstar 18, as well as jerseys, jackets and footwear, says Karin Fabri, Smartrac's senior VP and head of corporate marketing and communications. The tag is intended to sustain home washing and drying cycles when embedded in clothing, but in the case of the Telstar 18, it needed to be able to withstand the impact of kicks to the ball, even if a player were to kick the spot where the tag is embedded.

Smartrac's Karin Fabri
"Of course, stress factors for NFC inlays are very high on a playing field," Fabri says, especially when professionals are kicking the ball, so the greatest challenge lies in the protection of the IC area. "In this case," she explains, "we are using a special 'glop-top' seal, which shields the IC and its connection to the antenna." Building the tag into the ball required precise optimization of the glop-top process, material and dimensions.

"Extensive tests have confirmed that Circus Flex is resistant to practically any stress imaginable," Fabri states. The tag was embedded at the point of manufacture by Adidas. "Today," she adds, "the inlays are also being utilized in Adidas footwear, such as the Adidas Made For [AM4] shoes," which are delivered from Adidas's Speedfactory.

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