When the 2006 FIFA World Cup kicks off next June, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) will have a proven converged communications network from Avaya in place that will support the use of RFID-tagged ticketing for all spectators throughout the 12 tournament venues in Germany.
The RFID ticketing system is FIFA's latest attempt to (excuse the pun) level the field of play and halt ticket scalpers. While some professional sports leagues have already used RFID technology on wristbands to transact with self-serve kiosks and concession stands, these tags are different. The tags will enable the stadium turnstiles to send a message to the ticket management system validating the football fan's ticket stub.
In fact, a similar system was already put into place by Avaya and FIFA during the FIFA Confederation Cup in June. When Brazil emphatically declared victory in a 4-1 rout of archrival Argentina on June 29, cheering spectators at Frankfurt's Waldstadion held some 28,000 RFID-chipped tickets. And, with the success of that beta test site, FIFA is now exploring a controversial proposal to house more personal data in the RFID system.
"There's still a lot of debate whether there will be purchaser information in the ID chip," said Doug Gardner, managing director, FIFA World Cup program at Avaya.
If you think FIFA has a bone to pick with ticket scalpers, you're absolutely right. In April, when FIFA opened up sales of the first 812,000 tickets, organizers detected more than 2 million orders coming presumably from scalpers in the United States using false postal and email addresses and phony telephone numbers. Tickets eventually ended up in the hands of only about 200,000 fans.
Since that incident, FIFA's Organizing Committee has been fighting a public relations battle, fielding numerous complaints about ticket shortage. The committee even asked eBay to shut the door on trading black market tickets. But unlike tickets for the Live 8 charity concerts, eBay didn't see anything wrong with capitalizing on World Cup ticket resales. Four more sales periods are scheduled between now and next summer.
Yet, even privacy advocates acknowledge that RFID appears to be the perfect solution to fend off ticket scalpers. After all, personal data presumably couldn't live forever on a used ticket stub. So long as networks housing the data maintain strict security standards, "RFID in limited context is okay," said Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a watchdog group.
But Rotenberg continued that while RFIDs help address one problem, it could also introduce another. For example, according to the EPIC representative, RFID-tagged tickets could still end up in the wrong hands. RFIDs are easily detected and could easily be stolen especially if they arrive in the mail months ahead of the scheduled event. "As people start purchasing products that broadcast their presence, we need to consider how that functionality might be misused," Rotenberg told NFVZone.
Avaya may know a thing or two about fighting ticket-scalpers. Earlier this year when the World Champion Boston Red Sox opened up the hotline for individual tickets, Avaya implemented a call center monitoring system that identified potential scalpers trying to find a backdoor through the Red Sox's calling queues. Using the reporting capabilities that Avaya contact center software provides, managers were able to spot suspicious activity and shut down scalpers within moments of detection.
Through the most recent Confederation Cup deployment, Gardner noted FIFA and Avaya learned a lot from the experience. For example, the RFID ticketing system realized a failure rate of 0.7 percent, compared with an overall industry average of 0.5. Many fans must have pinned or otherwise damaged the ID chip embedded in their tickets, Gardner surmised.
"One of the issues they found was the chip was too close to the edge of the ticket stub," he told NFVZone during a telephone interview from Germany.
Despite those hiccups, FIFA was generally pleased with the network capabilities that Avaya built. Still, the FIFA Confederation Cup is a considerably smaller job than a World Cup tournament. Whereas 9.1 terrabytes of data were carried over Avaya's network during the FIFA Confederation Cup, next summer's tournament is expected to push network throughput to an estimated 15 to 20 terrabytes. The World Cup tournament is twice as long and the Confederation Cup only involved five of the 12 World Cup venues.
For the World Cup, Avaya expects to handle about 120,000 accreditations, which includes players, officials, staffers, the press and some 40,000 FIFA volunteers. To prepare for the World Cup, Gardner predicts his 12-person team will ramp up to a staffing level of 250.
Robert Liu is executive editor at NFVZone. Previously, he was executive editor at Jupitermedia and has also written for CNN, A&E, Dow Jones and Bloomberg. For more articles by Robert Liu, please click here.
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