SBJ/April 23-29, 2012/Franchises

RFID system helping Nats get fans in faster

The Washington Nationals were able to get more than 500 fans a minute through the turnstiles for their opening home series, more than triple their previous peak entry rates, thanks to the new radio frequency identification system at Nationals Park.

The Nationals found average entry times at RFID-enabled turnstiles were below three seconds.
Photo by: WASHINGTON NATIONALS
The RFID system, developed in partnership with the U.S. division of London-based customer management firm Fortress GB, expands the Nationals’ Red Carpet Rewards online fan loyalty program by tying together ticketing, concessions, merchandising, parking and the loyalty program into one computerized system.

As part of the technology build-out, Nationals Park now has 24 RFID-enabled turnstiles, where fans scan their own tickets, as opposed to ushers scanning the tickets with a handheld reader. With the self-scanning system, fans on average required less than three seconds to move through the turnstiles April 12-15, as opposed to eight to 10 seconds when ushers were scanning. The RFID readers can scan both paper tickets and ticket barcodes on digital devices such as smartphones and tablets.

The quicker and easier fan entry into Nationals Park has helped boost the club’s per cap merchandise and concession sales, club officials say. On Opening Day they were up 27 percent compared with the start of 2011.

“The early returns on the RFID system have been very encouraging,” said Nationals Chief Operating Officer Andy Feffer. “Fans in our market are very accustomed to scanning tickets themselves and self-entry with things like the Metro system. With the simpler entry into the ballpark, and promotions like our bobblehead giveaways, there’s no question we’re already seeing fans spending more time inside the gates before games, and a lift in areas such as our per caps.”

Self-scanning systems are also in place for Nationals Park premium ticket holders.
Photo by: WASHINGTON NATIONALS
The technology also provides team officials real-time statistical views into how frequently and where fans are entering.

The RFID system is the foundation of an entry by the Nationals into digital ticketing with the aid of vendor Tickets.com and MLB Advanced Media. About 300 Nationals season-ticket holders this season are participating in a pilot program in which their tickets were delivered in the form of a smart card with an RFID chip. The program will expand next year to all season-ticket holders.

“We’re looking to redefine the concept of what a ticket is,” Feffer said. “Instead of just point of access to an event, we’re now seeing the ticket as simply the beginning of a whole, integrated relationship with the fan, with all those touch points tied together digitally and in real time.”

The Nationals’ RFID effort is conceptually similar to a push across MLB toward digital ticketing. The club is not using the MLB FanPass brand, however, which for now is based on digital ticketing using credit card magnetic stripes.

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