Band Mates

SXSW Festivals
Austin, Texas

By Paula Moggio

A dynamic new band headlined and performed at the most recent SXSW Festivals in Austin, Texas—not a rock band, but a wristband.

For the first time in SXSW history, admission wristbands with embedded RFID (radio frequency identification) chips were used.

Precision Dynamics Corporation in San Fernando, Calif., supplied South by Southwest (SXSW) with its Smart Band RFID Wristband System during the popular SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Festivals last spring, which also happens to be the largest annual conference held in the city of Austin. SXSW debuted RFID technology to prevent counterfeiting and over-crowding while increasing public safety and ticket sales. More than 23,000 RFID embedded credentials were used on the largest crowd to date.

Preventing counterfeiting

One of the biggest issues faced by the ticketing industry is counterfeiting. Today, the market for secondary trading of tickets in the United States is estimated to be between $20 billion and $38 billion, This translates to high profit loss for venue promoters, performers and unnecessary burdens to everyone else involved in the selling and purchasing of tickets.

The previous year during SXSWeek, thousands of counterfeit wristbands were made and sold on the street with a face value of as much as $500,000. Those involved in the counterfeiting were later caught and charged with forgery and trademark counterfeiting. In 2004 counterfeiting of SXSW tickets was seriously discouraged by using the Smart Bands.

"It was a very good solution for us," says Roland Swenson, president of SXSW, Inc. "We had suffered from a high-profile incident with counterfeiters in 2003, and implementing RFID wristbands in 2004 was a smart choice for preventing this from occurring again."

Smart Band wristbands revolve around a tiny, flat RFID chip sealed in a non-transferable plastic wristband that uses customized software to store and transfer data that is read by RFID readers. The RFID chips used in SXSW wristbands contained serial numbers that were used to verify the authenticity of each band. Smart Band's non-transferable feature is key to preventing scalping and unauthorized access to the information stored on the chips.

During SXSWeek, the wristbands were scanned by specialized PDAs at the admissions entrance of every venue. After the RFID chip was scanned by the RFID reader, a light appeared signaling whether or not the wristband was real—green indicated legit, red indicated fake.

"We found no counterfeits this year, and our sources told us that certain groups we were aware of in the past, but could never make a case against, had ceased their activities," Swenson says.

Improving admissions, safety and sales

RFID technology helps quicken the admissions process. Also, the lack of counterfeit wristbands helps alleviate over-crowding in general. Over-crowding can hinder a patron's experience since suffocating crowds can lead to unpleasant occurrences. Having the ability to track accurate numbers of attendees makes it easier to manage and control crowds, which in turn increases overall event security.

What's more, employing RFID wristbands at SXSW helped increase ticket sales.

"We distribute numerous comps to sponsors, acts and the media," Swenson says. "Some of them sell their comps every year. We believe RFID [wristbands] increased sales because people were wary of purchasing comp wristbands on the street for fear that they might be counterfeit."

Additional points

Many other features can be programmed for use with Smart Band. The wristband can be used as a portable electronic wallet for point-of-sale applications and easy tracking of sales for event organizers. The system's read/write electronic storage technology allows for easy data transfer to and from host systems. In addition, data can be read and recorded through clothing, water, glass and the human body.

Smart Bands also can interface with the new AgeBand, which helps prevent underage drinking by providing positive patron identification and age verification. This age and ID verification system uses specialized software and databases from state's departments of motor vehicles to spot fake and expired IDs.

"RFID wristbands were a valuable addition to this year's event, and we look forward to using the high-tech wristbands at a higher capacity in the future," says Eve McArthur, director of operations at SXSW. "We're excited to have entered the new era of identification technology and to be one of the first in our industry to implement RFID successfully."

FOR MORE INFORMATION

SXSW: www.sxsw.com

Precision Dynamics Corporation: 818-897-1111 or www.pdc-rfid.com

Paula Moggio is a senior marketing communications specialist at Precision Dynamics Corporation in San Fernando, Calif. She can be reached at paulam@pdcorp.com.



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