RFID Goes to the Races

Chelmsford City Racecourse aims to be the first in its market to adopt an NFC RFID-based cashless payment solution from Event Genius to enable post-race concert-goers to pay for food, beverages and merchandise with the tap of a wrist.
Published: April 12, 2019

RFID-enabled wristbands for contactless payments and access control are most commonly worn by members of the millennial and Gen Z generations at music festivals, water parks and amusement parks. The Chelmsford City Racecourse, located in Essex, England, aims to bring the convenience of cashless payments at the tap of a wristband not only to more millennials, but to a newer demographic as well: horse race fans.

While typical attendees tend to be less familiar with the technology, they come to the track expecting to spend money, and the race course intends to provide RFID technology to make that easier and more convenient. The system will be used at post-race concerts, however, rather than at the races themselves.

Event Genius’s Lauren Lytle

The solution, provided by Event Genius, consists of the company’s software and app to manage read data, as well as a wristband supplied by ID&C, with a built-in 13.56 MHz Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID chip compliant with the ISO 14443 standard. The wristband will be read by personnel carrying handheld readers, as well as at point-of-sale (POS) locations and kiosks.

Chelmsford City Racecourse is a thoroughbred horse-racing venue. It opened in 2008 and includes a grandstand that seats 10,000 spectators. It also offers concerts and other events beyond horse racing. This deployment will be the first in the horse-racing sector, according to Lauren Lytle, Event Genius’s technical operations head, though it targets concert-goers. Event Genius, located in Leeds, England, has been providing ticketing and cashless-payment solutions in the United Kingdom using NFC wristbands. Its deployments are typically at music festivals or other events where the bracelets can enable automated entry into a venue, as well as be used for onsite payments.

Chelmsford approached Event Genius for an automated payment system in January 2019. The technology company built the system to be used at nine events throughout this year—the first of which, a beer festival, will be held on May 4-5. The annual activities consist of other special events as well, including Family Fun, Ladies’ Day and Gentlemen’s Day, as well as concerts. Chelmsford, Lytle explains, “wanted to put technology into the race course and be one of the first to do so.” She says the company has a focus on technology-based innovation and sought to find a way to make its events more enjoyable, with fewer inconveniences like long waits in queues.

With the new solution, individuals first purchase their tickets online, at which time they can opt to use a wristband for onsite concessions. They then provide a credit card number and select an amount of money they would like to have available. The data is captured and saved in Event Genius’s cloud-based software as pre-purchase credit, and the customers can then print a voucher with a bar code linked to their account. The system is not intended for use in placing bets.

Upon arrival, a ticket holder can proceed to a kiosk with the voucher and present it to a worker at the gate. The bar code is scanned via an Android-based handheld reader and bar-code scanner, provided by Famoco. The credit-card information and the amount of money authorized for spending are written to the wristband’s NFC tag, and the bracelet becomes the individual’s wallet. Upon visiting a merchant to buy food or a drink, he or she can simply tap the wristband against the reader installed at the point of sale. The amount of that purchase will then be automatically deducted from the band’s balance.

If the individual wants to add funds to the account, he or she can go to a kiosk with a built-in NFC reader and input credit-card information to “top off” the balance. The data is stored on the wristband rather than on the server, Lytle says, in part because it enables the solution to work even when Internet access is spotty. “Most clients use our system because it can operate entirely offline,” she states. Then, once the Wi-Fi or other Internet connection resumes, the information can be uploaded to the software.

Because the balance is written directly to the wristband, however, the system requires that users ensure they don’t lose the bracelet. Typically, the company reports, when money is involved, users tend to keep a close eye on the wristbands, with few losses reported. At the end of the event, if an individual still has money remaining in the wristband balance, he or she can request online that it be transferred back to the credit-card account.

The race course intends to use approximately 300 readers at its facility, most of which will be in the hands of employees working directly with fans, while other readers will be connected to POS systems or built into kiosks. By equipping most workers with the readers, Lytle notes, Chelmsford can enable mobile-based sales. “They want every staff member to be a point of sale,” she says.

The Event Genius software stores all transactional data for the site, Lytle reports, enabling Chelmsford to build a history of transactions that could help the race track to better predict crowd sizes, as well as monitor when individuals go to the concessions area and when queues might build up. In general, however, the solution is expected to reduce queue times significantly, based on other contactless payment installations. That, Lytle says, is the key goal for Chelmsford, which sought to make the experience faster and more convenient for race fans. “It reduces queues onsite,” she explains, “as well as the inconvenience of fumbling for a card or cash when making a purchase.”

No two deployments for Event Genius are the same, Lytle says, but the Chelmsford event is especially unique because of the market. Those who visit the race course are a different demographic than those who buy tickets for music festivals. “It’s a new crowd to introduce to cashless payments,” she states. Individuals may be older than the music festival attendees, as well as less familiar with technology, but she expects that they will be quick to appreciate the benefits of not having to carry around cash. In fact, Lytle adds, the race fan demographic tends to spend more money than many of the younger concert- or festival-goers.