All In The Wrist: Tech Solutions Evolve For Live Event Access Control

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I WAS THERE: While mobile-only options exist for access control, many fans view their festival wristbands as a badge of honor similar to a ticket stub. (Thomas Frey/picture alliance via Getty Images)

One consumer-facing tech sector of the live events space has simultaneously become more competitive and less competitive, as major players upgrade and gain market share while others fade away or specialize.

Companies in the world of access control and point-of-sale solutions are upgrading their platforms and building out new infrastructure to serve event operators and venues in new and better ways.

“RFID is very costly with hardware costs and shipping, the wristband and customer service and all of that, but the QR code is on average 30% to 50% cheaper,” said Ryan Howes, vice president of strategic partnerships at Intellitix, a pioneer in RFID wristband tech at large scale music events. “As event organizers are building up their budgets for the following year, you’re going to start seeing more transitioning over to our QR code-based solution.”

The Ontario-based company recently rolled out a new mobile-first Intellitix platform that provides QR solutions, akin to the kind used to order from restaurant menus, while also supporting its RFID-based service.

Howes admits that in North America, it’s been a slow build for RFID systems, which are more common in Europe. Fans can load funds into the wristbands and make purchases throughout a venue or event site; however, many events are already tied to standalone POS systems and multiple vendors, making it difficult to integrate with a one-stop solution.

“A lot of promoters and concessionaires just take the easy route and use POS systems that are not robust by any means,” said Howes. Intellitix tech is used at events including Tomorrowland, ComicCon, Boots and Hearts, VidCon, The International and TO Food and Drink, with many still preferring RFID over QR for offline use, visual credentialing and familiarity with the platform.

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Intelligent Techs: An example of Intellitix’s mobile-first POS platform, with cost to use starting at 2.9% per transaction.

“They’re not retaining any data, and when venues say they’ve gone cashless, they’re (often) just using Square terminals and debit cards.” Many event operators use a wristband supplier that no longer offers cashless services. “There’s actually fewer competitors now,” Howes added.

Event tech companies say it’s less about choosing whether to provide RFID or QR as a
preferred method of entry scanning, but providing the right solution for a particular event or venue — and making sure it works.

“It doesn’t really matter if it’s an RFID wristband, a QR code ticket or a badge around someone’s neck. The way we have designed it and set it up is you can configure it to work with any of those media,” said WRSTBND co-founder and CEO Conway Solomon. The company, started in 2019, provides access control, POS systems and credentialing for festivals, sports, conventions and other events.

While QR codes may be more subject to fraud attempts as users can attempt to screenshot or share a code between phones, Solomon says the lower-cost option works for many events.

Still, even if duplicated, “I can promise that no one can use (a particular QR code) more than once,” he said.

Events susceptible to scalping or speculative reselling may largely still prefer RFID, he said, which are easier to operate with spotty internet connections as well.

As event organizers and venues see the value in using a tech solution to handle increasingly complex credentialing and entry to live events, tech companies are broadening their reach to sectors that may otherwise be considered logistical or production-related.

“We’re going to be pretty full-stack,” says Stanislav Chijik, co-founder and CEO of BillfoldPOS. The company, known for cashless and contactless POS and access control with RFID options, has begun providing camera installations at venues and onsite WiFi at event sites— all in-house.

“Anything that’s tied to one back end and needs to be managed from one place, we’re handling,” says Chijik, who says venue management can benefit from seeing lines at a bathroom or bar via camera as well as POS activity from one platform during events. Offering multiple services in-house, and guaranteeing they will work, is driving new business.

“Even the more old-school operators are seeing the benefit of our solutions,” Chijik said. “It’s been good.”

WRSTBND’s Solomon says the future is not necessarily about speed of service or tech wizardry compared to competitors.

“The bigger vision is what Disney has done with their MagicBand, which is a really great example,” Solomon said. Fans attending Disneyland and Disney World can purchase the RFID-enabled bands that allow guests to customize their experiences, purchase add-ons at the park, and make payments for hotels and other conveniences. Solomon sees a similar potential at concerts and other live events.

“What we believe is that every attendee should be able to control their experience. You should be able to decide where you go, what you buy, what you upgrade or want to add on,” he said. “We believe it’s far beyond just a faster line to get in at the front gate or a little quicker to pay at the bar.”

He included examples like discounted concessions prices for fans who enter an event before a certain time, better seats or position for specific performances at multi-day events, and sponsorship activations.

“Those types of consumer interactions is where things are going,” he said.