Pickup Hockey Organizers Can Breathe Easy with Canadian Startup 20 Skaters

On any given night thousands of Canadians will flock to their local arena, pay $10 to $20, and suit up for a recreational “pickup” game of hockey.

For organizers of pickup leagues, it’s not all fun and games. Rather, organizational headaches and financial stress make the job unattractive at times.

Fortunately a Guelph-based startup is trying to take the pain out of organizing pickup hockey. Brydon Gilliss, also known for organizing the “Startup Train” that travelled to the International Startup Festival earlier this month, is behind the new idea for 20 Skaters.

The issue for organizers is when players don’t show up (usually its 10 PM and staying on the couch is a more appealing thought than driving to the arena). Unfortunately, organizers must still pay for the ice-time. The risk for pickup hockey organizers can be as much as $200 in a single night.

However, when 20 players show up to a game of pickup hockey it’s ideal for everyone. The organizer breaks even on the ice rental, no one gets too tired and everyone gets sufficient ice-time, thus the name 20 Skaters.

Gilliss wants prospective customers to “get back to playing hockey.” The startup wants players to enjoy well-attended (but not over-attended) games for the lowest price. Organizers get to focus on providing great hockey.

The web version of 20 Skaters is set to be in place late next month. It’s an online platform for organizers to invite their players to the game every week, allowing secure, online pre-payment.

“We just want to take all the pain out of pickup hockey so people will do it more often, and do it well,” said Gillies. “It’s a bit of a thankless job running pick-up hockey, so it’s trying to help those organizers while allowing players to commit and pay ahead of time.”

In his experience testing out the product last winter, nearly 100 percent of players showed up when they paid ahead of time. Organizers broke even and skaters received a quality game. Typically organizers are forced to do a round of last minute phone calls to ensure a full lineup, and even in those instances people might not show up.

The site uses stripe to accept credit card payments and will likely take three to five percent out of every transaction, which usually works out to $0.50 per player, or $10 per game. 20 Skaters might not be getting rich off this model, but there is money to be made. According to Gilliss there are over 4,500 ice facilities across North America. About 78 percent of those are in Canada and a large majority of those depend on pickup hockey groups for ice rental sales.

Gilliss see’s his solution as one that will help both pickup groups as well as ice facilities. Ice facilities know that when player participation is down, organizers are less and less likely to re-book.

“In our experience talking to municipalities and the rinks, they’re the ones that said we can help them, because it will help their customers be better customers in purchasing the ice,” Gilliss told Techvibes. “We’ve been working fairly closely with the City of Kitchener to help them in everything from private pickup hockey to considering helping teams collect their league and tournament fees from players.”

Gilliss, who also manages the ThreeFortyNine coworking space in Guelph, admits that the pickup hockey crowd is a niche market. But it’s a niche that can provide an easy starting point.

20 Skaters isn’t going to change the world, but it’s certainly going to make life easier for countless pickup organizers across Canada who are sick of losing money.