Skip to content
Close-up of a woman in a green dress wearing a white head covering, checking her phone with her right hand while holding a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 match ticket in her left hand. Beads extend from her right hand to behind her left.

A fan holds a matchday ticket during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Poland and Saudi Arabia at Education City Stadium on 26 November 2022, in Al Rayyan, Qatar. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt, AMA, Getty Images)

A World Cup Perspective: Sports Ticketing Enters a New Era

Managing a major international sporting championship can be one of the most complex undertakings imaginable. It might span multiple large stadiums hosting millions of spectators across one—or several—major metropolitan cities in different time zones with potentially different laws and regulations.

Despite the sheer size and scope of this undertaking, organizers must control the ticketing and crowd-management experience, so it is at once secure, safe, speedy, and seamless.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology has become an indispensable piece of this process, as exemplified during the past three quadrennial FIFA World Cups. As the security industry applies its learnings, it’s going well beyond the ticket itself to include real-time monitoring for crowd-management analytics, post-event continuous-improvement insights, and more.

Equally important are the intangibles of modern ticketing system deployment that have become some of the most important factors influencing event success. 

FIFA Led the Way

Millions of fans used RFID tickets during the FIFA confederations Cup in 2013 and FIFA World Cup in 2014, as well as the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2017, FIFA World Cup in 2018, FIFA Arab Cup in 2021, and FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. HID was the official ticket producer appointed by FIFA.

FIFA’s early adoption of RFID-based “smart tickets” eliminated one of the most pressing problems at the time—counterfeit-prone barcoded tickets. RFID is a wireless technology that enables rapid transmission of the unique identity of both the ticket and the ticket holder, which also enables a much more convenient “tap” ticket-validation experience than barcodes.

HID supplied FIFA RFID paper tickets and software libraries for access control hardware for the 12 stadiums used for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the 12 stadiums used for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. For both events, each HID smart tickets contained three layers:

  1. AN RFID inlay

  2. A security paper including physical objects mixed into its pulp during production

  3. A thermal paper that included two-color UV ink printing for personalization.

Also embedded into these tickets were a customized 2D hologram and micro-text to combat counterfeiting. All data stored in the ticket’s RFID chip was encrypted and digitally signed. HID also provided pre-personalization, fulfillment, consignment, and delivery services, and developed the associated middleware and a fraud-fighting key management system.

By the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, this basic HID solution now spanned eight newly constructed stadiums hosting 32 teams and 45 other locations around Qatar, including hotels, training camps, and team base camps. Unlike in 2014 and 2018, most fans chose to receive their 2022 tickets on a mobile ticketing app. Another big difference was the use of an event management platform (EMP), real-time crowd-management solution, and continuous fraud monitoring.

These and other smart ticketing advances that debuted in 2022 are quickly becoming baseline requirements. They also demonstrate just how integral smart ticketing technology has become to a successful high-volume, multi-venue sporting event on the world stage.

Deploying a Modern Event Ticketing Solution

Underpinning any solution is the prerequisite that every hour and a half, no less than 50,000 people must get into the venue and to their seats.

To accomplish this, event organizers are building their systems on an EMP that encompasses multiple layers—and layers within layers. At minimum, there is an outer-perimeter layer where security checks and credential validation take place for pre-filtering purposes, and an inner-perimeter layer where tickets are validated. The EMP must also support real-time data gathering and reporting via several user-friendly dashboards. The latter capability improves both security and efficiency, protects event operators from ticket fraud, and ensures a better fan experience.

As an example, people often linger between the outer and inner perimeters as match-time nears. With adequate real-time data from each perimeter, organizers know how many people have crossed the outer perimeter and are therefore expected to enter the stadium through the inner perimeter. Venue personnel can immediately open more gates or add ticket readers where needed, send staff to direct traffic, or expedite emergency evacuation.

Handheld readers are particularly important, especially for crowd management. In Qatar, several thousand handheld scanners were deployed across hundreds of gates at the outer perimeter to quickly scan and validate RFID Paper Tickets, Mobile Tickets (Barcoded), RFID Accreditations, and FAN IDs (which embedded both RFID chip and QR codes). The latter combined a spectator’s national entry permit and stadium access and event tickets. The scanners facilitated quick entry and the identification of fake tickets. The handhelds could also work in off-line mode if the network went down.

In Qatar, almost 170 RFID-enabled HID Egress gates were installed to accommodate, with a near-perfect continuous operation, the counting of 6,000 attendees per hour as they walked through.  To achieve this, HID incorporated proprietary, patent-pending ultra-high frequency (UHF) booster technology at each gate.

Another key ingredient of today’s modern event solution is ticket lifecycle management. This requires customized self-service kiosks for media seat assignment tickets, cabinets for instant issuing with special printers for on-the-go ticket personalization, and on-site support during each match.

Event organizers can consider many other options.  For instance, RFID technology embedded in the event credentials can also be used for different use cases such as closed-loop payment to improve the customer experience and increase revenue-generation for the event organizer.  

The Intangibles

Beyond what technology can deliver, today’s solution suppliers must provide many intangible capabilities.

As an example, every seasoned event organizer knows that “what can go wrong will go wrong.” They need a solution provider with real-time trouble-shooting skills honed through their experiences at as many relevant events as possible.

Additionally, the growing interconnectedness of today’s modern event management process may find organizers sourcing from multiple suppliers. It will become increasingly important to collaborate with suppliers that can provide an integrated platform and one-stop shop for as many critical elements as possible.

Some of the most important supplier portfolio elements include all types of RFID tickets from mobile to paper and even, in the future, the ability to have NFC tickets on the secure element of a phone or even a smartwatch. A solid and modern EMP should include state-of-the-art software; all the necessary hardware equipment, including scanners, turnstiles, and kiosks; and the modularity and scalability to support events of different scale and complexity. It must also enable secure and smooth traffic flow coupled with a positive fan experience while both protecting and increasing revenues and fan loyalty.  

Anti-counterfeiting expertise is especially important as the escalating value of tickets at the world’s top events attracts more fraudsters. It helps if a event management solution supplier has relevant experience gleaned from other types of trusted identity applications, such as corporate badging, mobile wallets, and passports or other high-assurance credentials.

In modern event management, a ticket is no longer “just the ticket.” The event management solution and its provider are the linchpin in a digitally transformed process for how people purchase their event experience, securely and efficiently enter and exit the venue, and buy items while they are there.

Event management solutions providers who design, deploy, and support them on-site also play a pivotal role in protecting event operators against fraud and crowd-management crises that could inflict harm, financial losses, and reputational damage.

Cesare Paciello is currently working as the vice president of Events and Mobility Solutions Business Unit in HID Global. He has previously worked as the vice president EMEA sales and vice president ticketing and transportation product line at Arjo Systems, and vice president EMEA Sales at Arjowiggins Security. Paciello holds a degree in Economy with multiple INSEAD Business School Programs in France and Singapore, doubled with a Sales and Marketing master’s from Il Sole 24 ORE Business School in Milan.

© Cesare Paciello at HID