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iSeries powers U.K. football team smart cards

A British soccer franchise is using smart-card technology on an iSeries to improve ticketing, customer relationships and, ultimately, the fans' game experience.

U.K. soccer fan checklist:

Lukewarm cup of Bovril.

One stale pie.

Hand-knit scarf in team colors.

Smart card.

Smart card? Yup. The same kind of card that gives extra-dollar savings at CVS drug stores and Stop & Shop supermarkets is being used by one British franchise to help it stay solvent.

In the dog-eat-dog world of Premiership soccer (which is sort of like our National Football League world), one team is using technology to help it build its business; the goal is that the smart cards will improve ticketing, customer relationship management (CRM) and ultimately the fans' game experience.

Using technology from two British firms -- Fortress GB Ltd., a maker of smart-card products, and Computer Software Ltd.'s Software4Sport, a provider of CRM management solutions for sports clubs -- the Manchester City Football Club has come up with a high-tech way to profile its customers in an attempt to drive revenue and improve the game environment. In a nutshell, they want their fans to keep coming back.

The system, powered by an IBM iSeries 800 server, lets a fan buy tickets on the football club's Web site, download the tickets to his smart card and pay for them using the same card.

Guy England, iSeries channel and solutions manager for IBM in the United Kingdom, said that when the Manchester team opened its new stadium last year, club owners wanted a ticket-less entry system. They also wanted a way to better understand what fans wanted, and they decided to get answers by looking at fans' buying habits and seating preferences.

"The club wanted to see how they could extend a traditional ticket system to help them build upon their loyal customer base, meaning the fans, and provide them with better service and keep that target audience happy," England said.

For Manchester fans, the new smart-card system brings benefits, including faster stadium entry -- entry times have been halved. Holders of the "CityCard" can now purchase tickets (including to Cup games) over the phone and, on game day, arrive straight at the turnstile and use their cards to enter the stadium.

Fans wave their CityCards over Fortress GB card readers fitted at each turnstile, which gives a color light indication to the stadium attendants regarding each card holder's status. In addition, every time the CityCard is used, information is recorded on Fortress GB's Smart Stadium Management Server and presented live at the stadium's control room; the room houses two iSeries systems (one for processing, one for backup) allowing the club to know which fan entered the stadium, when and through which turnstile.

Collected information is fed straight into Computer Software Ltd.'s TalentSport software, allowing the club to track who its customers are and record all attendances, purchases and communications throughout the ground. The TalentSport application handles ticketing, CRM, merchandising, loyalty assessment and prepayment.

England said that Manchester's club installed the iSeries 800 as much for its reliability as for its processing power. In addition to running the CRM applications, the system handles network and power failure issues, limiting the risk of delayed start times.

In fact, 40% of the Premier League now runs its businesses on the iSeries platform.

"One of the reasons they do," England said, "is that on match days they can't afford to be down. Similarly, in terms of performance, clubs don't know what capacity they'll need, so the iSeries is equipped with on-demand functionality."

Eventually, England said, the uses for the card will be extended to offer things such as remote messaging via e-mail, PDA or cell phone.

This vision has huge potential, England said. "For example, clubs can contact fans as to ticket availability if a game hasn't been sold out," he said. "This hasn't been done yet, but in terms of vision, just imagine. If you have tickets, you can let them know and get them out of the malls and into the sporting event."

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