Disney created a benchmark in wearables when it introduced a contactless wristband at its theme parks and hotels that guests can use as a room key, theme park ticket and payment account, among other features.
Wired’s in-depth report on the MagicBand brought widespread consumer attention to a wearables market that is just beginning to take off with bracelets, fitness trackers, rings, smartwatches and more.
Some payments-focused companies dabble in this emerging sector and Gemalto, which is known for digital security and its contactless efforts, is working with soccer and rugby clubs in the U.K. on a bracelet that could eliminate the need for fans to carry cash with them on match days.
Gemalto partnered with the Saracens Rugby club in Hendon on a wristband that contains something called an Optelio Contactless MiniTag. The tag is embedded in the bracelet and serves users as a payment device linked to a MasterCard-branded prepaid account. Gemalto in the future wants to add features such as stadium entry, and a loyalty program, and have the device act as a form of crowd control at outdoor festivals.
“We did the pilot with [Sacracens] to not only understand the complexity of the stadium, but also — something that tech companies sometimes forget about — [to make] sure what we think are benefits [of the wristband] to the consumer are actually benefits the consumer wants,” Howard Berg, senior vice president of for the U.K. and global banking customer accounts at Gemalto, told Mobile Payments Today in an interview.
A wristband wearer’s match day experience starts from the moment they leave home.
Since the bracelet’s contactless chip is linked to an open-loop prepaid account, the user can gain entry to the London Underground and Transport buses en route to a match with the flick of a wrist.
Once fans arrive at Allianz Park, where Sacracens plays its matches in Hendon, they can use the bracelet to purchase concessions and souvenirs at booths equipped with contactless terminals.
Gemalto wants to add stadium access to the wristband, but this is a challenge at the moment since most current systems are based on barcode entry, Berg said.
Gemalto surveyed Sacracens fans who used the wristband in a pilot and users thought it was a positive experience, Berg said. He noted one particular response that showed consumers are willing to buy the bracelet regardless of the technology embedded in the device.
“One of the comments that came back was that someone would pay about five pounds for a Sacracens wristband as a fan,” Berg said. “That was key comment. We’re fans. We wear shirts and baseball caps. Why wouldn’t we wear a wristband?”
Berge also said parents were fond of the bracelet because they could give one to a child to purchase their own concessions and souvenirs.
Berg admitted some challenges do exist with introducing such a device in a stadium or outdoor festival environment.
“It’s a simple move into contactless, and that’s the first challenge,” he said. “Clearly, you have to make sure there are enough [contactless] points of sale so that the consumer doesn’t get frustrated. We were lucky that the Sacracens stadium is about 18 months old, so the terminals have contactless [acceptance].”
Consumer education also is an issue, Berg said. Bracelet users have the ability to top off their prepaid account through a mobile app.
Gemalto and other clubs that use the bracelet will also need to educate stadium staff about how the devices work, Berg said.
In terms of widespread consumer adoption, Gemalto and other wearables providers can look to a recent study looking at how U.K. consumers are embracing contactless mobile payments.
The Visa Europe survey estimates that payments from smart devices will reach 1.2 billion pounds per week by 2020. While the study focuses on smartphone payments, there is little doubt Brits are becoming more comfortable with contactless payments, at least according to this survey.
“Contactless and online commerce enhancements have been key in paving the way for the next generation of mobile payment technology,” Jeremy Nicholds, executive director for mobile at Visa Europe, said in a statement. “The environmental conditions are already in place to meet the demands and expectations for digital payments. It’s no longer a question of if consumers will embrace this new way to pay — it’s when — and for us the next 12 months are when mobile payments become mainstream.”
Gemalto plans to roll out more wristband partnerships in later this year, particularly when the soccer season begins again. Berg mentioned that the company has discussed partnerships in the U.S., as well.
“The most complicated aspect in the U.S. is that so many stadiums and arenas are multitennant,” he said. “To do the project, they all have to buy into it.”