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RFID Is the Ticket at Washington Nationals' Park

The major league baseball team is conducting a pilot involving RFID-enabled game tickets that automate entrance at turnstiles, enable payments at refreshment stands and shops, and let users collect reward points.
By Claire Swedberg
May 04, 2012The Washington Nationals major league baseball team is striving to make its home games a more interactive experience for its fans, enabling them to employ radio frequency identification technology to manage their tickets, as well as food and beverage purchases, and to receive rewards and special offers. The solution, which replaces traditional paper tickets with a high-frequency (HF) RFID card, also reduces the amount of time that fans spend queuing up to enter Nationals Park. The RFID-based system, provided by British sports and entertainment technology firm Fortress GB, is being piloted this season by approximately 300 season pass holders, with plans to fully deploy the solution for all ticket holders during the 2013 season.

Fans carrying the RFID-enabled card may begin their experience by walking through an automated turnstile in a fraction of the time that it takes traditional ticket holders to enter, after which they can then use the card throughout the stadium and throughout the game, in order to make payments and receive points and rewards. The park's management has installed RFID readers and bar-code scanners at the front gate, as well as at refreshment stands and merchandise shops, enabling visitors to make purchases using a prepaid balance loaded onto an account linked to the card, as well as maintain an online record of transactions and receive promotions based on their spending habits, if they choose to opt in to the system.

At Nationals Park, RFID readers are built into the turnstiles.

"It's not about getting fans through turnstiles," says Andy Feffer, the Nationals' COO. "It's about looking at ticketing as a three-dimensional experience."

The RFID-enabled cards, provided by Fortress GB, contain an NXP Semiconductors Mifare 13.56 MHz RFID chip (compliant with the ISO 14443 standard). Upon arriving at Nationals Park, a participant can utilize one of 24 Fortress GB Tri-Reader devices connected to the park's turnstiles. These Tri-Readers consist of an RFID interrogator and a bar-code scanner integrated in a single device wired to the back-end system, where Fortress GB software manages read- and scan-related data. The Tri-Reader device was assembled by Fortress GB using a variety of RFID reader components supplied by third-party providers. When a valid RFID card is placed near the reader, the ID number encoded on the chip is captured and then forwarded to the back-end system via a cabled connection, where Fortress GB software authenticates the ID, triggering the turnstile's release. Simultaneously, the software stores that event and creates reward points, as well as a historical record for team managers. If the individual has earned sufficient points to merit a gift—such as a free hot dog and soda, or a game ticket—he or she can receive a text message or e-mail indicating that fact.

In many cases, a visitor will have a ticket with a printed bar code instead of a card containing a passive RFID inlay. For instance, if that individual prints a ticket at home, the ticket will come with a printed bar code. In the event that the Tri-Reader fails to detect an RFID chip's presence, it will scan the bar code and trigger the turnstile to open, provided that the ID is valid.

To date, a total of 45 Fortress GB readers have been installed at refreshment stands and shops selling such items as apparel and team-based gifts. In this case, a user can select goods for purchase and, instead of providing a credit or debit card or cash, simply place the card near the reader, and the money will be deducted from that prepaid account. At shops, the card can be used not only to make purchases, but also to redeem price reductions provided to the individual based on prior purchases.

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