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RFID pops

by James Morgan

James Morgan, founder of Event Tech Lab, looks at how RFID has been enhancing the fan experience and preventing counterfeit tickets at New York Comic Con.

The festivalisation of both trade and consumer shows is a continuing trend. But what can organisers learn from the technologies that are used at festivals and can they be adapted for use in the exhibition space? This month the topic of RFID in the consumer show space is explored. It’s a trend that is popping.

A prime example of leadership in this area is the New York Comic Con. The show is held in October across three venues – Javits Centre, The Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden, and the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Centre – in NYC. The biggest popular culture event on the East Coast of USA attracted 250,000 attendees in 2018. But how do the organisers enhance the visitor experience through technology? In this case ReedPOP – a division of Reed Exhibitions – has turned to festival technology to create a more immersive experience. This is based on using Radio Frequency Identification technology in multiple ways.

New York Comic Con producer and senior marketing manager at ReedPOP Fallon Prinzivalli was interviewed about how they have festivalised their event. When RFID was first launched at New York Comic Con a few years ago, it was primarily to help do two things. First, rid the market of counterfeit tickets that they had encountered in previous years. Second, to assist in keeping track of visitor numbers in the venues at any given time throughout the event. This was done by having visitors tap in and out of the venues. From a practicality standpoint, RFID badges that are activated and tied to a unique attendee also help cancel out stolen badges and the organisers can reissue them to the visitor who actually purchased the badge.

As the show grew each year, ReedPOP took advantage of the technology to add in more experiential functions. It became about enhancing fan experience through RFID. Their team began by gamifying the show through their XP program. NYCC fans who activated their badges were able to tap them around the event at specific locations and then entered to win instant prizes and a grand prize. The instant prizes were anything from first row seating in exciting panel discussions, to a free photo opportunity with a celebrity, to an exclusive item from one of the exhibitors. The grand prizes in the past have been trips to other ReedPOP conventions around the country or a VIP experience at NYCC the following year.

ReedPOP also utilises this technology to surprise and delight visitors in a subtler way. Prinzivalli states, “not many people know this, but when we get the end of year RFID report, our marketing team picks the top 10 fans who were in the building the longest (based on when they tapped in and out) and sends them a fun prize pack of exclusive items and merchandise from the show.”

Future plans are to sync the RFID technology within the mobile app so that as visitors tap around the event and receive a digital badge that will be added to a leader board. The team is working on this in the coming weeks to roll out a full scavenger hunt for 2019’s show, where winners will be rewarded with prizes. There are plans to implement cashless pay for visitors so they can pay exhibitors – with the tap of a badge – for what they want to buy while they shop around the show. There is also scope for social media activations as well as providing sponsors with communications opportunities through the use of RFID connectivity.

Clemi Hardie from badging and registration company Noodle Live says that, “consumer events focus on ensuring that guests feel they have gained value for money and encouraging them to purchase products from exhibitors. The exhibitor’s metric for success tends to be how much money they make on the day.”

So, should organisers be thinking how they can enhance with visitor and exhibitor experience using technology such as RFID?

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