No. 4: Toledo, Ohio
TEAMS (FIRST SEASON): International League Toledo Mud Hens (1965); ECHL Toledo Walleye (2009)
VENUES (YEAR OPENED): Fifth Third Field (2002); Huntington Center (2009)
Toledo, our top-ranked market in 2013, is surrounded by major league competition, with Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland all within driving distance, which makes its place on our list all the more impressive. Its teams have strong market shares for both sports (20% for baseball, 28% for hockey), contributing to strong attendance — up 260,000 in the past five years — despite a decline in population and economic growth far below most minor league markets.
Joe Napoli, president and CEO of Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Club Inc., the group that operates both the Mud Hens and Walleye, said that one major reason for the teams’ success is a commitment to understanding their fan base and their motivations through market research and surveys. This helps the teams strategize how to attract those fans with targeted theme nights, promotions and giveaways. These efforts have helped propel the Walleye to five straight years of attendance growth, while the Mud Hens have finished in the top 25 of MiLB merchandise sales every year since 1993.
Another key feature of the Toledo market is the Hensville entertainment district, a mixed-use development that opened in 2016 featuring restaurants, bars and retail space, and has hosted concerts, comedy shows and even weddings on its rooftop deck, which overlooks the Mud Hens’ Fifth Third Field. — John Aceti