Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal (SBJ) has named Toledo the Top Minor League Market in the country for 2013.
This is the first time SBJ has picked Toledo as number one, out of the 235 communities nationwide, in its biennial Top Minor League list since its inception in 2005. Toledo was ninth in SBJ’s first survey, then fell to No. 77 in the 2007 study, but rose back up to number 18 in 2009, rose again to 13 in 2011, and this year the top spot.
According to SBJ the ranking is determined by fan base, tenured clubs and the economy. This year, researchers analyzed 235 markets, 47 leagues, 408 teams, 249.8 million in total minor league attendance, and 2.64 billion in construction at 50 new or extensively renovated venues.
"This project measures what market best supports its minor league teams through thick and thin," said SportsBusiness Journal research director David Broughton, who has spearheaded this study since creating it in 2005. "Toledo has lost jobs and residents, and championships on the field have been few and far between. Despite these challenges, or maybe because of them, fans of the Mud Hens and Walleye have set the standard for team support."
The market’s No. 1 ranking validates the team’s significant investment in market research and staff training,” says Joe Napoli, President and General Manager of the Toledo Mud Hens and Toledo Walleye. “Community support for the two teams has never been higher. Fans come to both Fifth Third Field and the Huntington Center with family, friends and business associates knowing it’s a good value and an exciting experience.”
The numbers reflect their passion for the teams. More than 550,000 people came to downtown last season to attend a Toledo Mud Hens game, which included 33 sellouts. The 2013-14 saw the Toledo Walleye set the team record for attendance at 226,743. The team had nine sell-outs and set a team record for group tickets. Every year, both clubs are also at or near the top of their respective leagues in terms of merchandise sales.
Toledo’s roots for professional sports run deep. Baseball dates back to 1883 when the first professional team played at League Park. The team went by other names until 1896 when it became the Mud Hens. Through the years it moved through several sites including Swayne Field and Ned Skeldon Stadium before coming to downtown in 2002. Professional hockey began in 1947 when the Toledo Mercury’s became the first IHL franchise to be granted outside the Windsor-Detroit area. The Toledo Walleye formed in 2009.
Last week SBJ unveiled the teams that made up the other top five markets. These included:
1 Toledo, Ohio
2 Rochester, N.Y.
3 Hershey-Harrisburg, Pa.
4 San Bernardino County, Calif.
5 Springfield, Mass.
The Mud Hens are the Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. The Walleye are the ECHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings.