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Tampa Bay Lightning Strikes Gold With RFID

The hockey team says it has boosted sales by offering jerseys with embedded passive tags to season-pass holders, entitling them to discounts at its stadium's concessions stands and stores.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 19, 2011Six years after winning the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Lightning saw a drop in home attendance, due to a decline in on-ice performance, as well as the economic recession and management problems. This season, however, thanks to the support of a new owner, the professional hockey team's management has developed an RFID-based loyalty program for its season-pass holders, nearly doubling the number of customers using such passes in just one year. The solution—which features passive 13.56 MHz tags sewn into Lightning jerseys worn by fans, in addition to RFID readers deployed at concession stands and stores—allows a user to receive discounts every time he or she buys food, beverages or souvenirs, such as team apparel, at the St. Pete Times Forum stadium, in Tampa, Fla.

The Bolts, as Tampa Bay Lightning are popularly called, were purchased by Boston investment banker Jeffrey Vinik in 2009, when season ticket sales were at a low point—approximately 6,000 season passes sold for a stadium that can seat 19,300. Vinik urged management to develop new solutions to encourage the sales of season passes, says Brad Lott, the team's VP of sales and marketing, thereby leading to some brainstorming sessions.

"Ideally, we wanted to give them some kind of discount for food or beverage," Lott states. However, as it considered developing a discount card that season-pass holders could present at concession stands, the group saw weaknesses in such a system; for example, he notes, it would be easy for cards to be lost or handed off to other individuals in the stands. The group also considered the idea of providing a blue Lightning jersey to each season-pass holder, so that fans attending games could create a "sea of blue" within the bleachers. Then, Lott says, someone suggested, "Wouldn't it be great if there was a chip you could put in a jersey?" This, the person explained, would enable season-pass holders to use their gifted jerseys as a means of obtaining stadium discounts.

The group spoke with several RFID providers, but found that it would be difficult to integrate RFID-based software into the stadium's existing point-of-sale (POS) system. Therefore, the group met with the Bolts' existing POS hardware and software provider, Quest. Coincidentally, Lott recalls, Quest had just completed an RFID-enabled bracelet system for ticket holders at a water park, utilizing technology provided by Quest's parent company, Radiant Systems, a firm owned by NCR Corp.

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