NFC wristbands replace tickets and cash at mega music fest
By Kelsey Ward, Contributing Editor, Avisian Publications
Ranked in the top 15 most widely attended music festivals in America, Lollapalooza in Chicago’s Grant Park is no small affair. The annual weekend-long festival attracts more than 160,000 fans and hosts some of the biggest names in music. This year’s headliners included Paul McCartney, Metallica, Sam Smith, and Florence and the Machine to name a few.
The event brings in millions of dollars each year for the performing artists, advertisers, and the city of Chicago. Ticket sales kicks off the financial spend, but food, drink, clothing and more continues the flow of dollars throughout the weekend.
For the past two events, producers of Lollapalooza have partnered with Tx Systems, Festival Control Systems and Advanced Card Systems (ACS) to facilitate spending and increase the customer experience with near field communication technology. Attendees don NFC wristbands that eliminate the need to carry cash, tickets or payment cards, simplifying purchasing and securing the festival for attendees and vendors alike.
In 2014, more than 170,000 attendees registered wristbands across six festivals including Lollapalooza, says Marc Barry, operations and systems analyst at Festival Control Systems. This ranged from 50% to 90% adoption rate and accounted for roughly one-third of the overall transaction activity at the events. “It was far and away more than what we expected for a first rollout, and it was absolutely a success in our book,” he says.
With another year came more success. “All festivals that participated in 2014, chose to continue the NFC rollout in 2015. “Events saw a 10% average growth rate year over year,” says Barry.
Although the logistics at an event like Lollapalooza are complex, the NFC payment solution is straightforward. After purchasing a ticket to the festival, attendees receive a wristband in the mail. At the event web site, the wristband can be linked to the attendee’s credit or debit card of choice, and a PIN number is selected to secure future transactions. If an individual opts not to link a payment card, the wristband still serves as the event ticket and is required for access to the venue.
Show vendors receive Android tablets equipped with point of sale software and an NFC reader. The ACS ACR122T reader, normally in USB token form factor, is removed from its token casing and embedded within the tablet’s shell for added durability. This hardware solution integrated by Tx Systems is coupled with Festival Control Systems merchant software to complete the package.
“It is easy to buy a reader and plug it into a device, but in demanding environments like a Lollapalooza-style event you need tight, secure integration,” says Eric Gregg, sales representative at Tx Systems. “Using the ACS reader board rather than an off the shelf desktop reader, we were able to deliver our client a dependable NFC-ready tablet that stood up to the rigors of one of the world’s largest festivals.”
When attendees are at the festival, they are able to order from any vendor displaying the Lolla Cashless logo, tap their wristband to the tablet, enter their PIN and go.
At events such as Lollapalooza with tens of thousands of people accessing the cellular networks to share pictures or to download a hot new track that was just performed, access can be spotty at times. To account for this and ensure festivalgoers could continue to use their wristbands if connectivity is down, the tablets are set up to store transactions for processing when connectivity is reestablished, explains Barry.
“The tablet stores a token that references a customer profile stored with the credit card processor. As long as the tablet is able to receive incremental updates for registrations that happen during the event, the system is able to work offline,” he adds.
With numerous NFC readers on the market to pick from, Festival Control Systems chose the ACS ACR122T model for its form factor and price. “It enabled easy inclusion within the tablet and communication infrastructure, and the price point made it possible to deploy the system across the festival grounds,” says Barry.
“The ACR122T is one of our most versatile and popular readers due to its convenient form factor, size and price point,” says Robert Merkert, president for the Americas at Advanced Card Systems. “Adding NFC capabilities to any mobile tablet, PC, or device via USB has empowered applications from retail payment and loyalty to government ID.”
While Barry says the solution has proved cost effective at both per user and per transactions levels already, ticketless entry and in-venue purchases may be just the beginning. Lollapalooza and other users of the NFC solution may soon benefit from additional functions such as access to VIP areas and services, loyalty applications and tie-ins with social media accounts for easy upload of photos and status updates.
He suggests that expansion to other events is likely, as they have had significant new interest for the 2016 festival season. When asked if they plan to do anything differently next year at Lollapalooza, Barry is upbeat. “It’s working well enough to keep it just as it is,” he says. For now.