NFC Gets in the Ring at UFC Fan Village

This past summer, Ottawa's Ultimate Fighting Championship Fan Village found that participants using NFC-enabled technology from XOLUTION had higher game participation rates, and also shared event-based information via social networks about 5,000 times.
Published: December 13, 2016

Martial arts-based event Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), at its Fan Village in Ottawa, Canada, provided a Near Field Communication (NFC) radio frequency identification-based feature to enhance its fans’ experience this summer: It increased game participation for those who wore NFC wristbands (versus those not doing so), and provided up to 5,000 social-media-linked activities. The NFC-enabled bracelets allowed participants at the Fan Village event to access games, take photographs and share the photos and game scores with friends via social media. The concept was provided by marketing company Bond Brand Loyalty, using technology from XOLUTION, a company that makes RFID technology for use at events.

Approximately 2000 individuals, representing 70 percent of those entering the village, registered for the RFID-enabled wristbands at the two-day event, held in June. They then used the bracelets about 5,000 times, equating to 2.5 taps per guest. Participants also shared 700 photos online through social media and e-mail.

Users input personal data to be saved with their wristband ID.

The UFC offers Fan Village events around the world, aimed at bringing the sport and fighters to the fans. Such events typically include some celebrity fighters, as well as games and programs intended to help fans get closer to the fighting experience. According to the UFC, this was the first such event held in Ottawa.

For the Fan Villages in Ottawa, says a spokesperson for Bond Brand Loyalty, “We were looking for a smart, digital solution that would connect and enhance the fans’ experience as they moved through each activation area. It needed to motivate both in-person and social engagement, while delivering extensive attendee and activation data for UFC and their sponsors.”

XOLUTION (rebranded for BASH! Interactive) is a seven-year-old company that offers turnkey solutions for social-media-based marketing. The company provides a system that it likens to Legos, in that clients can build their own solutions based on their particular needs and the blocks of features XOLUTION offers, explains Conor Davies-Taylor, the firm’s “Xperiential Eventor” and head of business development. “We offer a build-your-own digital experience,” he says. The features include photos, gamification, social-media sharing and feedback, as well as contactless payments.

UFC opted for the registration, photos and gamification features only. The UFC Fan Village wanted an experience that would make fans feel as though they were part of the UFC experience, even though they were not fighters themselves.

The installation consisted of nine RFID-enabled tap stations, known as X-Stations. These were installed at registration; at a speed, power and endurance competition tent; and at a photo kiosk where guests could be pictured going head to head with their favorite fighter. XOLUTION’s X-Engine cloud-based software managed the data related to each read event.

Each tap of an RFID wristband enabled participants to link pictures or game scores with their personal data.

As each individual arrived at the event, he or she was offered the NFC 13.56 MHz wristband, employing an NXP Semiconductors chip and compliant with the ISO 14443 standard, which was designed with the UFC brand printed on the front. Each wristband came with a unique ID number encoded on the NFC chip embedded within. Upon registering, users first approached an X-Station kiosk, where they tapped their wristband, causing the Xolution software to captures the ID number. They were then invited to input personal data, such as their social-media accounts, e-mail address, weight and height, as well as the name of their favorite UFC fighter. That data was then stored in the software, along with the unique ID.

Conor Davies-Taylor

As guests moved around the property, they could participate in games and other features. For instance, at the UFC Tale of the Tape Poster station, they could tap their wristbands against an X-Station with a built-in RFID reader from Feig Electronics. The reader captured each participant’s ID, linked to his or her personal information and favorite fighter. The guest then struck a fighter’s pose in front of a screen, as directed by UFC brand ambassadors, and the resulting picture displayed that participant with that fighter, as though they were about to go head to head. Personal information, such as height and weight, could also be included. The individual could then proceed to a kiosk and share the image on social media, or create a poster that could be e-mailed to that person.

“Their registration data allowed us to include their personal stats, squared against the UFC fighter they had selected at registration,” Bond Brand Loyalty’s spokesperson says, thereby providing “a much more personalized experience with the brand.”

Tapping in at the event’s Reebok Combat Fitness Stations, participants were able to measure their speed and force of punch, as well as their endurance while jumping rope, using sensor technology provided by StrikeTec to measure the punches and the number and speed of jumps. These statistics could also be included in the Tale of the Tape poster shared on social media. Additionally, the fitness challenge results were displayed on a leader board installed at the fitness tent, along with each participant’s name.

The entire set-up and take-down of the hardware was accomplished within a matter of hours, Davies-Taylor reports. “We were able to set it up the day before and tear down quickly after the event,” he adds. “It all happens pretty quickly.”

Participants wearing RFID wristbands could capture and share their own image squaring off against a professional fighter.

Xolution is currently in conversations with other event managers about deploying the RFID technology at a variety of events.

“The UFC Fan Village experience was built to maximize engagement, and our RFID solution was a big part of that,” Bond Brand Loyalty’s spokesperson says. “All elements were user-friendly, mobile and clearly branded,” she adds, which helped boost participation and social sharing. “Everything went according to plan and we were very happy with the results.”

According to the spokesperson, Bond Brand Loyalty found that those who registered with the RFID system participated in more activities at the site than those who did not, thus “indicating our fans found value in the added experience the RFID wristbands afforded them.”