Festival Wristbands Getting High-Tech

A British music festival has become the first in the country to exclusively use RFID chips in place of paper tickets. It’s an idea that has major technical advantages, but has been slow to spread outside the US and the cost implications are still questionable.

At most music festivals, attendees are issued with a paper ticket when they book and then exchange these at the gate for a wristband, often colored to show if they have any special privileges such as backstage access. Aside from allowing quick checks around the venue to make sure people are in the right place, and allowing people who leave the site to re-enter, such wristbands don’t have any other functions.

For this past weekend’s Wakestock event, a combined music and watersport culture festival, customers didn’t get a paper ticket. Instead they received the wristband in advance, meaning there was no time-consuming exchange when entering the venue. A simple scan was all that was needed to enter the festival.

As well as physical check-ins, customers were able to link the wristband to their Facebook account in advance, allowing them to virtually “check in” to the various stages and venues around the festival site. Whether that brings any real practical benefit is questionable, though it could be handy when hunting for a friend who has either lost their phone or run out of battery — assuming of course that your phone is still in action and getting a signal.

There are also major benefits for festival organizers, who can now keep track of precisely how many people are in a particular area at a particular time. The immediate advantage is that it makes it much easier to stick to safe capacity limits for particular areas without needing to rely on staff using “clickers” as guests enter an area. In the long term, it potentially getting exact figures of how popular each performer was, which could affect both the line-ups and running orders of future festivals.

The system can also aid security as it can block an RFID-wristband being used to re-enter the venue unless it has previously been “checked out.”

While it wasn’t used at this event, the system can theoretically allow customers to pay in advance for a credit balance that can then be used at food stalls and other retail outlets around the festival, reducing the need to carry cash or wait in line for ATMs.

The downside is that the cost of producing and monitoring the wristbands may only be viable on the largest events. Organizers at Wakestock, which had a capacity of around 25,000, said setting up the system was only possible thanks to a commercial sponsor. Meanwhile customers at the festival told the BBC they wanted more information about exactly what the system was tracking.

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