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Vail extends RFID social media program; NBA, NHL and MLB may be next to adopt

How valuable are the 275,000 social media posts that Vail Resorts captured through the use of RFID-enabled ski passes last year? Consider that Vail will offer free professional photos to all skiers who sign up for EpicMix this year in an effort to boost participation in the program and capture additional social media impressions.

Vail is expanding EpicMix to include all skiers, with single day ticket buyers receiving RFID-enabled smart passes when the season opens in November. Vail expects to purchase more than a million tags this season.

Vail isn’t the only entertainment venue embracing RFID and social media apps. RFID 24-7 has learned that the NBA, NHL and major league baseball are all pursuing RFID for customer loyalty and social media apps. With a fan base of well over 100 million, those three sports represent only a fraction of the market potential for RFID-driven social media apps.

“I see an opportunity there for sure,” says Drew Nathanson, vice president of AutoID at VDC Research. “If they do build it, I think that people will come. If the NHL or NBA started doing something like that it would catch on pretty quickly with the other sports leagues.”

At Vail Resorts, the company expects to triple its population of skiers using RFID-enabled ski passes. “It’s just another reason to come to Vail Resorts,” says Robert Urwiler, chief information officer for Vail Resorts. “By going to all hard card media, that will drive more social media impressions in a big way.”

Last year Vail Resorts received 275,000 social posts on Facebook and Twitter and more than 35 million social impressions (based on Facebook’s estimate of 130 friends per person). Those numbers, which Vail uses in its marketing efforts,  could triple this year.

The other big news is that Vail will offer guests professional quality photos for free. Those who subscribe to EpicMix (there were 100,000 last year) will be able to see their photos online and instantly post them to Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. Urwiler says that the resort will consume well north of one million tags this season. Zebra is supplying the UHF cards equipped with a custom antenna inlay. The cards use chips from NXP.

The photography kit is equipped with a handheld RFID reader that will allow photographers to scan skiers to obtain the tag ID, and then tag all individuals in the group. Those photos will thenbe added to the skier’s EpicMix account.

“When you think about the vacation experience, it always includes photographs, and we see this as the right new functionality coming out at the right time,” says Urwiler. “And it’s all enabled by RFID. It’s another amenity that we offer our guests.”

As for other sporting groups, Patrick Sweeney, the founder and CEO of ODIN RFID, says that major league baseball, hockey and basketball are concentrating first on season ticket holders, for whom they would  like to supply one piece of media that they can use for the entire season. In addition, major league venues can then offer their best customers a VIP-kind of experience while gathering the data on ticket holders to determine the biggest spenders. Of course, an EpicMix-like app for basketball games and other sports would appear to be a slam-dunk.

“There is definitely some serious interest out there and the NHL is very interested in the technology,” says Sweeney, whose company produces the EasyConnect brand software that has enabled Facebook integration through RFID for clients like Vail, the Mercedes PGA championship, and others. “This is definitely a growing area for us.”

Sweeney says ODIN has several other high profile negotiations underway for the installation of RFID and kiosks at sporting events that enable fans to share event information as well as photos instantaneously. (Click here to view a video about the PGA’s use of RFID).

The market for integrating RFID-enabled sporting event tickets with RFID-enabled social media apps is growing quickly. Aside from the major sports leagues in the U.S., there are endless opportunities around the globe, including the Japanese baseball circuit, which draws over 22 million annually, and FIFA soccer in Europe, which attracts close to 60 million fans a year. In fact, the top 10 sport leagues in total attendance represent a fan base of more than 220 million. Throw in college events, concerts, NASCAR (which is seriously considering RFID solutions) and the market could easily surpass a billion fans, opening up a tremendous market for RFID hardware and software.

Most of the applications are utilizing UHF RFID in order to have the duel benefit of having longer read range and the ability to do short read ranges with near field UHF. Many of the sporting leagues would likely opt to embed RFID tags into the skin of a mobile phone, or use RFID-enabled wristbands featuring player names or team logos.

“They are looking at a lot of ways of adding to the social media and overall brand experience,” says Sweeney.

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