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How PixMob is casting a new light on the PWHL’s fan experience

Photo courtesy PixMob

One of the first hires that the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) made, before announcing team markets, GMs, coaches, or even how players would be allocated to teams, was Burton Lee. Lee, who left his role with the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes to join the PWHL, would be the director of game operations and fan experience.

The job title showed intent. Professional women’s hockey was not just going to be a side act in between beer league, free skate, or youth hockey games. When you showed up to a PWHL game, there was going to be focus on the fan experience.

Already you have seen significant differences at games. Games have in-arena hosts, something we are used to in men’s hockey but has been largely absent from the women’s game, especially for regular season games. A lot of this is possible because every game is broadcast, leading to consistent breaks for commercials, and opportunities to get the fans engaged.

Another thing you may have noticed, at least at the home openers for Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, was activation of a new league partner: Montreal-based company PixMob. PixMob’s innovative lighting is made for big events. Their list of past events include mega concerts, Super Bowls, and they were the company behind the lights on empty seats at the Bell Centre during the 2021 playoff run by the Montreal Canadiens.

Every fan entering the arena at the Toronto and Ottawa home openers, on January 1 and 2 respectively, received a bracelet that features a light. That light can be controlled by a technician who can choose the timing and colour. During Toronto’s introductions it would turn blue, Ottawa’s red, and when the league promotion videos were playing, they would be purple.

It was a match made in heaven, and it was PixMob who approached the PWHL regarding the partnership.

“It’s a proactive outreach that we wanted to sponsor and partner with them,” said PixMob’s VP of Marketing Pauline Rosen. “PixMob decided internally that we really wanted to do more to support women in sports, and in live entertainment in general, two of our biggest segments that we work in. We obviously hear about all of the inequalities that are happening for women in our field and we really wanted to just do more, I actually attended a conference last year where I found out only 1% of all the sponsorship dollars, go to women’s teams in sports and 99% go to men’s teams so we really wanted to do more.”

PixMob has worked with the WNBA in the past, but they wanted to get more proactive in their approach. The company doesn’t just see this as them offering their services to help attract fans and improve the experience, but even to attract sponsors. They say that down the road there is the opportunity for the PWHL to sell advertising on the bracelets and to have companies sponsor that entire part of the experience.

“We just wanted to get more involved proactively to support these teams, and to make sure that women get the entertainment they deserve. Also when PixMob gets involved, it’s good for broadcast, it’s good for [attracting] sponsors. Obviously we’re based in Canada, we’re based in Montreal, so when we read about the upcoming opening of the hockey league, we decided we should reach out to them and see if we can partner with them.”

The initial reaction from the league and board was so positive that it generated a new problem. Initially the plan was to do the first two games in Canada at no charge to the PWHL and evolve the partnership from there. The league was so impressed they immediately offered to pay for 10,000 bracelets for the game later that week in Minnesota that set an attendance record, but it was impossible to get the logistics done in time.

They did, however, have the bracelets at Montreal’s home opener last Saturday at the Verdun Auditorium with a bigger gap between games.

“The response has been amazing,” Rosen said. “I think they were a bit worried because they are just starting to do game entertainment. They are just starting to do a run of shows and it’s all new to them. So there was a bit of concern before we activated in terms of how complicated that would be but after they’ve seen that it’s super easy to deploy and that the effects are incredible for for the fans, the response was great.”

One of the advantages for PixMob is how flexible it is, and it can fit into an existing structure of event presentation in order to amplify it as opposed to needing an entirely new set up.

“We use the team colours to underline every time the home team is scoring,” said Phil Belanger-Bishinga, Account Manager for Pro Sports at PixMob. “We basically try to attach ourself to what’s already planned in terms of game presentation.”

It’s something that adds to the entire experience, not just PixMob themselves, but the focus on in-game entertainment. People go to the Bell Centre to see the Montreal Canadiens not only to see them win but to be part of an experience. That experience was different for people going to watch women’s hockey in the past.

“Your emotion goes pretty high when you get on that ice and you see that much action in the stands, the lights, the people cheering us on,” said Montreal forward Marie-Philip Poulin. “It was very special. We know [Marie-Christine Boucher, the team’s director of business operations] was going to put together something special but I think she exceeded what we expected and that’s something I’m forever going to be thankful for.”

“Our new positioning as a company is that we want to ignite collective joy,” Rosen said. “That’s what we stand for. Yes, we do LED wearables, and we like to have people in the crowd, but at the end of the day, we are creating moments of collective joy for people in any event, whether it’s in a concert, or whether it’s in a sports game, and we just want to bring that joy to more people, more people who deserve it. And we felt that women in sports and in live entertainment, in general, don’t get the spotlight they deserve necessarily. So we’re just trying to play our part to bring that spotlight to more people.”

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