Coachella music festival’s high-tech ticketing

10 May

Over the past weekend, nearly 90,000 people ventured out to Indio, California, for the 12th annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. Although a surprising number of Aussies and Brits made the trek to the three-day festival, the majority of concertgoers only had to make a short jaunt from Los Angeles. In fact, more than half were from the Golden State.

Coachella attendance tied last year in terms of three-day passes sold: 75,000. But when adding in the event employees, band guests and personnel, security guards and the masses of nonpaying people that managed to make it in last year, attendance hit 105,000 people, Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett told The Desert Sun. The sold-out event managed to take the 2010 title for top-grossing nontouring concert — and No. 4 worldwide — according to Pollstar, pulling in more than $21.7 million in sales. Although the ticket allocation sold out faster this year — in only 124 hours after the bands were announced on January 21 — 2010’s event had an excessive number of ticketless people inside the venue, whether from fake wristbands, jumping fences or sneaking past security. It’s those people who are responsible for the intense security measures and gaudy, high-tech bracelets this year.

When murmurings of 2011 Coachella began last fall, there were talks of innovative ticketing systems. But it wasn’t until the first-class-mailed package arrived this spring that the lucky 75,000 really knew how high-tech the arts-based festival would be.

“This year we’ve introduced a new high security wristband,” reads the front of the box in all capital letters. “Your wristband contains a number of advanced state of the art security features and every wristband will be scanned upon entry to camping and the festival grounds.” Inside the extravagant box is a cloth wristband with a square radio frequency identification tag attached to it and instructions detailing how to put it on. Although none of it looked very state-of-the-art, that RFID tag took a huge step in concert ticketing innovation.

Not only did it allow fans (whether campers or day visitors) to enter and leave Empire Polo Field whenever they wanted throughout each day, but it also allowed Goldenvoice, Tollett’s Los Angeles-based promotion company that put on the event, to monitor counts, track the flow of traffic and easily detect fake wristbands. Upon entering the venue, once people downed their drinks and got a quick frisk by security, they walked through panels similar to security at a department store that scanned the wristband’s RFID tag. A variety of beeps  —or worse, no sound — would signal whether you got the thumbs up to enter, whether the system recognised that you didn’t scan out of the event earlier or whether you didn’t have a wristband at all.

Although it’s reasonable to assume that last year’s nonpayers weren’t too thrilled about the high-tech hurdles, the event was significantly less chaotic this year. “The fan experience improved,” says Kathleen Ripley, a veteran Coachella festivalgoer. “It was noticeably less crowded and [ticket buyers] were less likely to hear discouraging stories of people sneaking into the expensive event.” Tollet says it was because of the advanced security measures that total attendance didn’t breach 90,000.

Although the high-tech ticketing was a hot topic among campers and fans — aside from the 100-degree temperatures — the overall vibe seemed positive. “It was a really smart move,” says Ripley, who is also a music industry analyst at Santa Monica-based market research firm IBISWorld. “The wristbands and advanced security helped prevent the chaos of last year’s sold-out show, eased the strain on local law enforcement and helped bolster fans’ confidence that they were getting an experience worth the $270 or more they paid.”

Keeping a positive, strong relationship with the local law enforcement and community in Indio, which is known as “The City of Festivals”, is essential for this event and promoter, Ripley explains. Goldenvoice, which is a subsidiary of AEG, hosts Stagecoach: California’s Country Music Festival at Empire Polo Field two weeks after Coachella. In 2010, Stagecoach was Pollstar’s 19th highest-grossing, nontouring concert.

While the high-tech security improved the customers’ experience, it begs the question: How did it affect business? Sure, fewer people sneaking in means fewer lost ticket sales, but it also means fewer people spending money inside the venue. And the high-tech bracelets and scanners couldn’t have been cheap.

Ripley admits that the increased security could dig into Goldenvoice’s ultimate profit, but the company that produced Coachella’s RFID wristbands, London-based ID&C Ltd., claims that the scanning system can admit 2,000 fans per gate per hour—in effect, potentially reducing staffing costs.

Although the same high-tech ticketing isn’t expected at Stagecoach, Ripley sees many more live events moving in this direction and becoming increasingly innovative. “And in more ways than security features, too,” she adds, referencing Ticketmaster and Live Nation’s new dynamic pricing scheme that is due out later this year. In partnership with Marketshare, a cross-media analytics company, the LiveAnalytics program will allow Ticketmaster clients to set and adjust pricing for their live events. The tools will use a wide range of data to help determine pricing, including historical sales, search activity and social media data.

By Lindsay Holloway

Coachella RFID Wristbands

Coachella RFID Wristbands

LA Business Technology Examiner

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