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The Essential Guide to RFID for Events and Festival Planners

Technology continues to make staggering advancements forward, enhancing our lives and granting us better abilities to throw smashing events and festivals. One such type of technology that needs to be on the radar of any event planner is RFID. What is RFID and how is it advantageous for event planning?

RFID is a type of radio frequency technology that’s often used in the form of wristbands or other wearable tech at festivals and events. Attendees can make cash-free, hands-free purchases across the event grounds while festival organizers get to learn a slew about their attendees through RFID.

If you’re not quite sure what I’m talking about when I refer to RFID, or if you have an inkling but you’re eager to learn more, this in-depth guide is for you. Ahead, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about RFID technology and how to use it during events, so keep reading!

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What Is RFID?

First, I feel like a bit of an explanation is in order, so let’s start with a definition of RFID.

RFID is short for radio-frequency identification. It’s a type of technology that utilizes electromagnetic fields to first identify tags and then later track those tags.

I’ll get into this more in the next section, but essentially, an RFID system uses a transmitter, a radio receiver, and a radio transponder to send and track data.

RFID technology comes in several frequencies, so let’s go over those now.

Ultra-High-Frequency RFID

The first frequency is ultra-high-frequency or UHF RFID systems. The frequency range for one of these systems begins at 300 megahertz (Mhz) and goes all the way to 3 gigahertz (Ghz).

The rate of data transmission in a UHF RFID system is tremendous. An RFID reader capable of reading these frequencies can do so from up to 12 meters away, which is a distance of almost 40 feet.

The only downside is that UHF RFID doesn’t work as well with interference, as the system is very sensitive to noise. Even that’s becoming less of an issue as newer UHF RFID manufacturers are looking for ways to overcome the weaknesses of UHF.

UHF frequencies must meet the EPC Global Gen2 (ISO 1800-63) UHF standard, which is the worldwide standard for this frequency.

High-Frequency RFID

Operating at not quite as high a frequency as UHF is high-frequency or HF RFID. This RFID range begins at 3 MHz and goes to 30 Mhz.

You’re most likely to see HF RFID used to transfer data and payments as well as for ticketing.

Although prone to interference, said interference affects an HF RFID system a lot less than it does a UHF RFID system.

Low-Frequency RFID

The third type of RFID frequency is low-frequency or LF RFID.

A band at this frequency begins at 30 kilohertz (kHz) through 300 kHz. These RFID readers operate at a much shorter range of no more than 10 centimeters, which is 0.33 feet.

Additionally, the speed of an LF RFID reader is the slowest of the three frequencies. That said, interference is the least likely to affect this frequency.

Due to its limited range, you’re likeliest to see LF RFID used for purposes of animal control and access control more so than you would at events and festivals.

Outside of the above applications, RFID is used in a variety of industries, and the list is expanding all the time. They include:

  • Telemetry, mostly for broadcasting data
  • Waste management, where collection carts can be tagged
  • Sports, including chipping equipment that players use to track metrics later
  • Universities, where school IDs might use RFID technology as well as backpacks and even student clothing
  • Museums, which issue RFID cards to visitors so they can learn even more about exhibits
  • Libraries, which have begun using RFID instead of barcodes
  • Healthcare, with facilities like hospitals utilizing RFID for inventory management and collecting patient data
  • Animal identification, which can track more than lost pets but also potentially diseased animals
  • Transportation, where RFID tags can be used as a means of payment

How Do RFID Wristbands Work?

Next, let’s delve further into how RFID technology works, primarily wristbands, since I’m sure you’re very curious.

Okay, so let’s go back to what I was talking about regarding RFID systems in the section prior. These systems use a transmitter, radio receiver, and radio transponder.

If you issue RFID wristbands during your festival or event, they will have a working RFID system within. The components that make up the system are incredibly tiny, after all!

An RFID reader will be set up in the vicinity of your festival or event. When an RFID system receives an electromagnetic interrogation pulse, the tag within the RFID bracelet or wristband will send data to the RFID reader.

What kind of data does the reader receive? An identifying number that can be used to track who entered your event, the level of inventory remaining, and all sorts of other pertinent data.

If the tag within an RFID wristband is an active tag, then the wristband will include a battery as well. The battery expands the range of the RFID signal. Even if the wristband is hundreds of meters away from the RFID reader, that reader can continue to collect data.

An RFID wristband can also use passive tags, which need the interrogating radio waves of an RFID reader to give them enough energy to work. A passive reader does not allow the bracelet wearer to stray nearly as far from the RFID reader if you wish to keep collecting data.

With an RFID bracelet, a festival attendee might be able to get into your event hands-free. They can also make cashless payments.

The data that RFID can provide make the wristbands more than just a convenient feature but possibly safety devices as well.

For example, an RFID bracelet can contain data such as allowed versus restricted access areas, medical details, and emergency contact information.

If families get separated or someone in a group gets lost, through the power of RFID technology, they could be reunited again.

Examples of Cool Things You Can Do with RFID

RFID technology has transformed the way that events and festivals are hosted. Now you can introduce a variety of awesome activations and other entertainment and activities sure to make your event a far more memorable experience for your audience!

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Automatic Parking

Let’s start with what is admittedly a more advanced form of RFID but one of the coolest anyway.

An RFID system used for parking will feature a variety of sensing circuits as well as a microcontroller. The circuits gauge when a car is coming into or out of a lot.

When it’s your turn to enter the parking lot, before you’re granted access, you’ll have to swipe an RFID card. If your card is approved, you can enter.

More so than that, the RFID card will also automatically deduct your payment for parking. The RFID reader will have an indicator that tells you where to park, including any available parking spots.

A system like this could even be automated to reduce the need for anyone to be in their car at the time of parking. H-bridges could move cars to the RFID reader, and if the car is allowed to enter, then the boom motor would transport the vehicle onto the lot.

The RFID system would monitor the available number of parking spaces and reduce them as the lot becomes fuller.

Event Entry

In a moderately similar vein is how festival and event attendees will enter the threshold moving forward.

Event entry has come a long way in even the last two decades. It used to be that printing tickets was the only way to get in. Now, you can open up digital tickets on your phone or carry a badge in the case of multi-day events such as big festivals.

Yet all this technology is barcode-based. RFID technology would allow for even easier entry into an event.

An attendee’s data would be preloaded into a wristband or bracelet that’s mailed out to them. When the RFID reader scanned the bracelet, it could confirm that ticket was scanned so that if someone else showed up with the same seat number or ID, they’d be turned away.

Contests

How about some festival and event activations? Contests are a great way to drive engagement because people love winning free stuff. Even the prospect of winning free stuff is enough to get people gathering in droves.

Sponsored contests and RFID are a match made in heaven. To enter a contest or giveaway, no longer would attendees have to sit there filling out their names on a little piece of paper. Instead, they could scan their wristband and automatically be entered.

All the attendee’s relevant contact information such as name, phone number, or email address would be exchanged during this RFID reader scan. Companies can later use this information.

Since it’s so fast and easy to enter a contest or giveaway, if you had multiple going on during your festival, an attendee might feel inclined to enter them all or at least as many as they can.

Touchscreen Exhibit Guide

Earlier, I talked briefly about how museums are beginning to use RFID technology. That is, you’re given a card when you enter the museum that, when scanned through an RFID reader, can present more information about exhibits.

Well, exhibits are becoming a more frequent sight at events and festivals, so using RFID technology used the same way is an excellent idea!

Cash-Free Lounge

One of the biggest perks of RFID technology by far is how it opens up the door to cash-free payments. Why not take that idea and run with it for a festival or event activation?

For instance, you could have an exclusive VIP cash-free lounge where only RFID bracelet-wearing attendees are allowed to be.

Since RFID technology can designate who is allowed access versus who isn’t, keeping this VIP area exclusive wouldn’t be too challenging.

Personalized Messages

Here’s another great means of expediting and adding some flavor to the event check-in process through RFID.

When an attendee checks in, the RFID card reader could greet them by name. The reader will display a message telling them that they checked in successfully and might even offer suggestions of which booths, entertainers, or seminars to visit first.

Drink Tokens/Order Points

During a festival, you want your attendees to eat, drink, and be merry. RFID technology is used to achieve those goals.

If your event has a bar, then each time an attendee orders a drink, they could receive drink tokens.

At the end of the event, the attendee can use drink tokens for exclusive perks or maybe even cash off future drink and food orders.

On the note of safety, drink tokens can also manage how much alcohol someone’s had and possibly curtail them if they’re over the limit.

If your event won’t serve alcohol or if you want an activation idea that glorifies alcohol less, order points work in the same way.

For each order an attendee places while they’re at your festival, they’d earn points that can go towards discounts or even freebies.

Treasure Hunts

Gamification is one of the biggest trends in festivals and events. Now you can harness its power with RFID treasure hunts.

You could do group treasure hunts or individual treasure hunts depending on the scope of your event and the level of interest (which I’m sure there will be plenty of!).

Attendees will move through various touchpoints to unlock clues that will help them solve the treasure hunt. The first person or team to successfully solve the hunt wins.

Digital treasure hunts are a leftover from the COVID age, but what I like so much about RFID treasure hunts is how they combine digital and in-person elements.

The Benefits of RFID for Festival and Event Planners

RFID can be tremendously beneficial for both the organizers and planners hosting the festival as well as the attendees.

Let’s start by talking about all the perks for festival planners.

Accurate Attendance Numbers

How many people attended your event or festival? This is integral information, as you need to know for your own records as well as for a sponsor’s records for however many sponsors you have.

While counting tickets manually is one way to do it, it’s not the most conducive to accurate results. Instead, you might allow RFID technology to track attendance instead.

This technology can review anything that’s numbers-based, and that does include your audience attendance. You’ll be able to project your attendance data with 100 percent confidence to your sponsors, stakeholders, and investors.

Easier ROI Tracking

You won’t ever have to guestimate how much your event or festival earned again with RFID badges or wristbands.

When an attendee buys drinks, food, shirts, posters, or any other goods at an event or festival, if they’re using their RFID bracelet to do it (and who wouldn’t considering it’s so convenient?), you’ll have a full record of this information.

This will give you a more accurate tally as to how much your event or festival earned, and certainly a lot more so than guesstimating.

See Who Enjoyed Which Activations and Activities the Most

As the festival or event planner, you’re not omniscient. You can’t be there seeing what every attendee is doing at all times, so it’s hard for you to say which activations and activities got the most engagement unless and until you can review photos and videos later.

There’s a better way, and it’s RFID. The data presented to you through the badges will indicate where people spent their time.

It’s not to a creepy degree, so you don’t have to worry about invading anyone’s privacy. That said, if 200 people looked at Sponsor A’s activation but 3,000 checked out Sponsor B’s activation, then that’s a pretty clear indicator of which was a success and which wasn’t.

Keeps People Out of Areas Where You Don’t Want Them

RFID badges might not be a big, neon yellow “no access” sign, but they work just about as effectively and perhaps even more so.

Simply put, if an attendee tries to scan their RFID bracelet in an area where they’re not supposed to be, the RFID reader either won’t read the bracelet or will display a message telling the attendee they can’t be there.

This is a great way to enforce the rules of your event or festival.

The Benefits of RFID for Festival and Event Attendees

What about event attendees? If anything, those who enjoy your festival or event reap the most benefits, so let’s go over them.

Adds Gamification Elements

As I said before, gamification is having a moment. If you can capture the intrigue behind gamification and inject it into your event or festival, then you can be sure you’ll engage with attendees in a way that’s meaningful, fun, and memorable for them.

RFID lends itself so incredibly well to gamification whether it’s through contests, giveaways, or treasure hunts.

Makes It More Convenient to Check in

No one enjoys waiting in a super long line, but when attending a popular festival or event, it’s a given.

Any option that you can utilize to streamline the process is going to be appreciated by your attendees and could even factor into their decision about whether to attend next year.

Using RFID check-in shows that you value your attendees’ time, as you can streamline the entry process, allowing your attendees to get into the event sooner so they can enjoy more of the day that they paid for.

Allows for Ultra-Convenient Shopping

It’s best to travel light when you’ll be on your feet the entire day such as at a festival or event. ATM machines are usually pretty sparse at these kinds of events, and the few that are around will attract large lines.

Plus, what happens when the ATM runs out of cash? Then attendees have to use their debit or credit card to pay for purchases.

RFID is the most convenient option for paying for goods and services for your festival or event. The attendee wears an RFID bracelet, preloads it with cash, and then holds up their bracelet to pay.

They can carry drinks for their crew or snacks for everyone while still balancing their merch, and no credit card required!

Wristbands Are Easy to Wear

RFID is not invasive technology. People already wear bracelets, wristbands, and smartwatches in their day-to-day lives anyway, so an RFID wristband is not all that different.

Make sure the wristband is waterproof (or sweatproof) and your attendees will wear it the entire time, even if yours is a multi-day festival.

How to Incorporate Sponsors into RFID

Festivals and events need the backing of sponsors. If you want to use RFID technology during your next event, how do you get your sponsors excited about the proposition?

Well, first it helps to learn a little bit more about your sponsors and what their interests and goals are. RFID, as valuable as it is, does not gel with every single outcome a sponsor might be looking for.

If they’re interested in growing their email newsletter, attracting new leads, or converting customers, then you’re in the money.

You can mention the RFID technology you’ve used for past events, including photos, videos, and metrics that showcase how much ROI the technology has earned.

Encourage the sponsor to learn about RFID and then ask them how they’d like to incorporate the technology into an activation.

Together, you two can collaborate on an activation idea that will truly be the talk of your whole event!

How Much Does It Cost to Implement an RFID System?

You still have one more lingering question, and that’s how much will RFID cost?

According to RFID and barcode hardware company AssetTrack, for active RFID, you’d pay between $15 and $20 for each RFID tag.

If you have 2,000 attendees, then you’re already spending $40,000 on just the tags alone, keep that in mind.

If you want basic passive RFID, it costs about 10 cents per tag. Metal passive RFIDs for metal surfaces are $1.50 a tag, which would be $3,000 for 2,000 attendees.

You also need an RFID reader.

Not all readers are the same. An active RFID reader that can work up to 3,000 feet away is between $1,250 and $1,500.

A fixed-position RFID reader that goes in a doorway or entryway costs $10,000 to $20,000 a pop. That cost does include configuration, installation, and hardware.

If you’d rather use a handheld passive RFID reader, those are far lower-cost at $3,000 but do require a person to work a stand and wave the RFID reader.

Conclusion

Radio-frequency identification or RFID is a truly awesome technology that has unlocked so much potential for festivals and events especially.

Now your attendees can enter without paper tickets, pay without cash, and sign up for contests and participate in scavenger hunts without a pen and paper.

If you’re not already using RFID for your events, I hope this post makes you reconsider!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.

After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.

Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.