Team Marketing Report
The East Coast Hockey League Toledo Walleye are still more than nine months away from dropping the franchise’s first puck, but the team is doing a great job of creating its fan base with strong merchandise sales.
According to Walleye and ECHL officials, the team’s sales numbers would currently rank them fifth in the league, going by last year’s numbers.
How have they accomplished this feat?
For starters, the team is trying to establish its identity in a curious way by creating a whole host of logos. The team has more than 10 different styles of logos, and Craig Katz, the team’s Director of Merchandise and Licensing, said he wasn’t worried the team’s initial identity would be negatively affected.
“We have a wide selection because everyone else has a different opinion,” Katz said. “What I like might not be what you like. We want to appeal to everyone – men, women, and children, hard core hockey fans and the casual fan.”
The Walleye already have more than 15 different T-shirts, 15 hats, and a host of jackets, jerseys, sweatshirts and novelty items.
One of the biggest groups the logo appeals to might be surprising. Katz said fishermen have taken to the version of the logo that looks the most like a realistic Walleye.
“We thought we could capitalize on people who liked walleye fishing,” Katz said. “We have people who are placing orders and are telling us that they love it that they can wear a shirt with a walleye on it while they’re fishing walleye.”
Toledo hasn’t had a minor league hockey team since the Toledo Storm shut down operations following the 2006-07 season. Although the team was relatively successful with six division titles and two championships in 16 seasons, ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna said the Storm failed to stay afloat because of an aging arena. This team has the same ownership, who were granted the right to suspend operation while waiting for a new arena.
With a new home in Lucas County Arena, McKenna said a fast sales start was expected from one of the league’s main markets.
“We were able to capitalize on the missing void in Toledo,” Katz said. “Toledo is a strong hockey town. Although we weren’t playing, people were excited when we announced we were bringing a team back and when we unveiled the logo and merchandise. We’re 10 months away from the inaugural game and we’re fifth in sales. Needless to say, we’re very happy with the response from fans.”
“Having a team in Toledo is very important,” McKenna said. “It was one of our longest-serving markets, one with a great tradition. They’ve won a number of championships and they’re always competitive. They have an educated, enthusiastic fan-base. We’re looking to expand that base. I think that’s begun to happen with the launching of their new logo. Their merchandise has been met with a very warm reception from the fans.”
Team executives don’t expect numbers to slow down. Because of the team’s connection with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, Walleye merchandise will have a greater visibility during the baseball season.
“Our fan base has really driven our sales,” Katz said. “We’re right now above where we thought we would be, but we’re hoping as the baseball season progresses, we’ll have a lot more traffic during that season because we’re selling at Mud Hens games.”
It wasn’t just the Walleye who had positive things to report. McKenna said the overall financial outlook of the ECHL is healthy, although less than half of the teams have reported higher ticket sales this season. Among those teams are the Wheeling (W. Va.) Nailers. There have been reports, as recently as early January, the team is in bad economic shape and considering relocation. The Wheeling News-Register recently reported ticket sales numbers were around 2,700, “still below the desired 3,000 per-night range.” McKenna said the Wheeling franchise isn’t in any immediate danger.
“The league is doing fine,” McKenna said. “We’ve had our hiccups, but in either instance with the teams that we’ve lost, it hasn’t been a surprise. We have seven teams that are ahead of where they were last year in terms of sales – it’s difficult for the rest. We have a good product and an affordable price point. The next 12-24 months will be easier to sell tickets. Considering the entertainment value, we feel confident moving forward that we can hold our own.”