World Cup Tests RFID

By Jonathan Collins

FIFA tried using RFID to reduce scalping at the World Cup for soccer.

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It seemed like a great idea: Use RFID to reduce ticket fraud and scalping during soccer's World Cup, the most popular sporting event in the world. But the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) found that while RFID tags can be read consistently, matching hundreds of thousands of individuals to their RFID-enabled tickets in real time at the turnstiles is another challenge entirely.

In an attempt to prevent people from buying tickets and reselling them at exorbitant prices, FIFA required everyone applying for a World Cup ticket to supply personal information, including name, place of residence and passport or national ID card number. The 3.2 million people who were lucky enough to attend the matches had to use a ticket embedded with a Philips MiFare 13.56-MHz HF chip. Each person's personal information was stored in a database and linked to the RFID tag number embedded in their ticket.

FIFA's original plan was to use RFID to curb ticket fraud and scalping. (Illustration by William Rieser)

FIFA insisted that the data it collected would help secure the stadiums from known criminals and terrorists. But the main benefit of using RFID was to ensure that tickets—which had face values ranging from €35 to €600 ($45 to $750)—could not be counterfeited or resold; holders had to verify their IDs when their tickets were scanned at the stadium turnstiles. Stolen tickets also would be worthless, and replacement tickets could be reissued to the rightful owners.

In addition, RFID promised to help spectators enter the stadiums more quickly, because turnstiles opened automatically as valid tickets were passed over the built-in interrogators. According to Skidata, the company that developed the RFID-enabled turnstiles at some of the 12 stadiums, the majority of the 70,000 spectators who attended the opening ceremony passed through the turnstiles within two hours.

But FIFA's original plan to use RFID to curb ticket fraud and scalping was largely sidelined. Checking the ID of each entrant and matching their details to the record related to the unique ticket ID would have slowed down the flow of fans into the stadiums. Also, FIFA didn't collect personal information for the many official sponsors and representatives from soccer associations.

The interrogators deployed at the stadiums will remain in the turnstiles for use by the German league teams that play there, so RFID might yet make a contribution to German soccer.