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RFID Is a Winner in the Sports Arena

RFID promises to be a big-league player in just about every aspect of every sport.
By John Edwards
Apr 01, 2008—Timing is everything in sports—and not only on the track or playing field. Fans need to gain entry to their seats quickly and efficiently, and concession operators have to move their goods at a rapid pace. Most important, sports organizers and officials need to time competitors precisely and track split-second plays in events as diverse as NASCAR races, horse races and marathons.

Over the past several years, RFID has become an integral part of a growing number of sports and sports-related activities. RFID is even being incorporated into sports equipment to help golfers find their balls and memorabilia collectors authenticate their prized objects.

RFID is rapidly rising through the wide world of sports to become a major-league player, says Dan Mullen, president of AIM Global, a Warrendale, Pa.-based trade association representing automatic-identification solution providers. "The surface is just being scratched," he says. "The technology is well suited to support a number of different sports."

This August, the 2008 Olympics in Beijing will become the latest sporting event to use RFID technology for ticketing and security applications, as well as for various timing and scoring activities. In 2006, for example, the 3.5 million soccer fans who attended the FIFA World Cup games in Germany were issued tickets containing tags provided by Philips Semiconductors (now NXP).

Some 7 million Olympics tickets will incorporate RFID tags featuring a unique ID number, designed to make it impossible for the documents to be modified or counterfeited. By eliminating the need for manual identification, the technology also promises to accelerate ticket-holder entry into events while enabling officials to detect if a ticket is being reused. For added security, tickets to the opening and closing ceremonies will include the holder's digital picture and ID information. The tags will be produced by ASK-TongFang, a joint venture between France's ASK SA and China's Tsinghua Tongfang.

At a number of stadiums, including the Detroit Lions' Ford Field and the Philadelphia Eagles' Lincoln Financial Field, attendees can purchase food and souvenirs with the wave of an RFID-enabled key fob or wristband. Cashless payment systems reduce long lines at concession stands, boosting sales and ensuring that fans don't miss the action on the field.
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