Athletics score points for local economyWritten by Kristen Criswell | | email@example.com
Professional sports not only entertain Toledo, they also boost the economy. The Mud Hens and Walleye play a combined 108 home games per year, bringing people and businesses to Downtown Toledo.
“The Mud Hens and the Walleye absolutely impact Downtown business,” said Tom Crothers, executive director of Downtown Toledo Improvement District (DTID).
DTID began in January 2006 to offer services to existing businesses and help develop new businesses in a 38-block radius Downtown.
According to DTID’s information, 54 new businesses have been created after April 2001, one year before the opening of Fifth Third Field. Many of these businesses opened due to the presence of the stadium, Crothers said.
Since the stadium opened in April 2002, the Mud Hens have had 4.5 million visitors. In the first seven games, the Walleye have had 45,273 people in attendance.
Joseph Napoli, president and general manager of the Toledo Mud Hens and Toledo Walleye, said the reason teams like the Mud Hens and Walleye help their local economies is because people want to come out to the games.
“When midsize communities like Toledo gather, they gather at sporting events,” Napoli said. “The best description I’ve heard of a Mud Hens game is it’s like an old neighborhood block party. You come out to the game and run into dozens of people you didn’t expect to see. This adds to the enjoyment of coming to Walleye and Mud Hens game. People want to socialize and enjoy their friends. That’s what makes teams like ours so successful across the country.”
Price is another factor in bringing in large crowds.
“We’re very price conscious. We want it to be affordable, so prices range from $7 to $15. We think that’s a comfortable price range for most families,” Napoli said. “We want it to be easy for a family to come out. We try to remember who our consumer is and position both clubs to meet our fans’ expectations.”
According to the Lucas County Arena Action Plan, written before the arena was built, the estimated fiscal impact of the arena with a team in the ECHL is $42.8 million.
A similar plan was written for the baseball stadium, Napoli said.
“KPMG Peat Marwick studied the economic impact of a Downtown ballpark and said on an annual basis, the impact would be roughly 18 million a year. If you take the formula they used, and apply to today, that impact is closer to 50 million a year. We’re proud of that from that perspective we exceeded expectations,” Napoli said.
The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) offers a special game-day shuttle for the Mud Hens, the Muddy Shuttle, and has continued that tradition for Walleye games with the Walleye Shuttle.
“We added the special service because there was an opportunity to give those people attending the games a choice,” said Steve Atkinson, marketing director of TARTA. “Whether we offered the special shuttles or not, the ridership on those days would increase.”
The Muddy shuttle has had 216,244 passenger boardings since it began, with 27,030 average boardings per season. The Muddy Shuttle was free in its first year and $1 round trip per person or $2 round trip for groups up to five after that.
In the first six Walleye games, TARTA has seen 1,604 passenger boardings on the game day shuttles. Tickets for the Walleye shuttle service is $1 each way.
Not only do game days increase bus traffic, but they help out local restaurants and bars.
“Whenever the Mud Hens have a home game there is a dramatic affect on the days and nights for the restaurants in the area,” said Kris Berger Long, executive director of Northwest Ohio Restaurant Association. “The new arena is also having a very positive impact on the restaurant community Downtown.”
Jason Mandel, general manager of Packo’s at the Park agrees.
“Game nights see a huge increase,” Mandel said. “The arena and the stadium definitely help our business, at least doubles our sales.”
Neal Kovacik, general manager at the Oliver House, said people come to park, eat and walk to the games.
“The sporting events are a positive influence. We’ve noticed an increase during days the Walleye play and hopefully that will grow as the season progresses,” Kovacik said.
The Mud Hens employ 400 seasonal employees in the Swamp Shop, concession stands, security, box office and ushers. The organization has 50 year-round employees between the Walleye and the Hens.
The economic downturn has affected the Mud Hens, Napoli said. Instead of seeing advance ticket sales with 90 percent of the tickets sold three to five days before a game, the advance sales are taking the club right up to the day before the game, or game day.
“League wide in baseball, there has been about even to a slight decrease in sales, a zero to 5 percent decrease,” Napoli said. “For hockey we have no comparison for how we are doing.”