RFID Delivers Gaming, Access to Comic Con Fans

ReedPOP is expanding services with its NFC RFID-enabled badges for more than 150,000 New York Comic Con fans at this year's event.
Published: August 19, 2019

When more than 150,000 fans attend New York Comic Con (NYCC) this fall, they will be using a Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID badge to not only gain entry to the event, but also reserve a spot in long queues, gain access via lottery to the most popular panels and receive prizes. Since the NFC technology was introduced, says NYCC managing company ReedPOP, it has reduced wait times for popular events. Fans can now attend more such events—twice as many, on average—than they could in previous years, says Kristina Rogers, ReedPOP’s event director. This year, the NFC solution will be expanded to include more access and prizes for those with badges, while payment functionality is expected to be added next year.

NYCC is one of the world’s largest comic book conventions; held each year at the Javits Convention Center, it has grown from 33,000 attendees in its first year (2006) to more than 250,000 in 2018. This year, the conference (being held on Oct. 3-6) is expected to be even larger. Managing a crowd of fans that large is inherently challenging, and when some panels are highly popular, the lines and congestion can become even greater. In fact, fans attending the conference often begin lining up for some studio panels the night before it takes place. Some of the most popular include those hosted by Netflix, Marvel or AMC (which last year offered a program for The Walking Dead featuring the full cast onsite).

The NFC-enabled 13.56 MHz badges, which are compliant with the ISO 14443 standard, are being used to reduce lines and free up fans to spend their time and money at other booths or programs at the show while they await panels. However, the original priority was to confirm each ticket’s authenticity in order to prevent fraudulent entry. “When we rolled out RFID chips in our badges several years ago,” Rogers explains, “it was purely focused on entry [and] exit.” Because each badge’s unique ID number is linked to a pre-registered account prior to the event, the system can confirm each ticket’s authenticity. For the past several years, it has also identified ticket holders.

In 2016, ReedPOP began working with Showclix to link the unique ID of each badge to a particular ticket holder’s identity, thereby eliminating fraud. Users pay for their tickets and order badges, then set up an account with their personal information, including their name and e-mail address. When the badges arrive, they enter each badges’ ID number to create a link between that badge and a particular person so that each individual will be recognized upon arriving at the show.

RFID’s use has expanded with the event as its fan attendance has grown. Since 2018, fans have also been using their badges’ NFC functionality to access content, earn prizes and enter lotteries for the panels. In the case of line activation, individuals first arrive at a panel or other event they wish to attend, then tap their badge against a reader. Either staff members are located at the site with handheld readers, or tablet devices are mounted at the site to capture tag IDs.

ReedPOP’s software captures and stores each individual’s ID, along with the the time at which he or she arrived. That person is then invited to leave the line and continue browsing elsewhere. When it is his or her turn to return to the line, the user receives a text message. “As opposed to being locked in line for the next two hours,” Rogers says, “they are now free wander around the show floor.”

Visitors could also use their badge to participate in photo opportunities at booths. A guest can tap his or her badge against a reader at the booth, and the handheld or tablet reader will forward that individual’s ID number to the software, which would then send the picture associated with that ID to his or her personal e-mail address. This year, the company is expanding its pre-show lotteries, as well as presale opportunities to purchase access to specific events and exclusive access to lotteries. Fans can tap their badge against readers at sites throughout the conference center to be included in lotteries or contests.

The system also helps individuals collect purchased items at the conclusion of the program. For instance, they can purchase memorabilia such as celebrity autographs, and their transaction will be linked to the unique ID number on their badge. As an individual leaves the site, he or she can redeem the autographs or other materials by presenting the badge to an employee equipped with a handheld reader. The reader will capture the ID number and link that information to the products purchased, and those items can then be retrieved for that individual.

The conference comes with XT Towers—games that users can interact with and receive prizes from when they tap their badge against the tower’s reader. In addition, the system allows the top 10 fans to win exclusive items and merchandise. Software captures data indicating how much each badge holder has tapped around at the conference, then determines that individual’s level of activity accordingly.

This year, NYCC will include an “intelligent matchmaking” option for use with the badges. A user can input his or her interests when making a ticket purchase, and that information, along with details regarding which events and booths that individual attended during the show (based on badge taps), enables the software to identify other programs that might be of interest to that user and forwards this data to him or her.

In 2020, the company intends to roll out a system for cashless payment via the badges. Visitors would simply provide account information with their other identifying details, after which they could tap their badge against point-of-sale readers to buy merchandise or food. The system, Rogers says, is designed “to put control back in the hands of the fans,” so that they can use the bulk of their time as they want, rather than having to stand in line. That improved fan experience is the primary purpose of the system, she adds, though it also boosts sponsorship based on the improved experience for brands and vendors exhibiting at the event.

According to Rogers, exhibitors say they benefit from enabling visitors to simply tap their badge against a reader to redeem a prize or collect information rather than having to manually sign up for a newsletter, for instance. Last year, the event included approximately 35 RFID touchpoints at booths and entrances to panels, as well as at the XT Towers, while that number is anticipated to be even larger this year. Readers used at the entrance and exit for the event are in addition to those.