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Mud Hens management: Success in two worlds

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Toledo Walleye

The ownership of the Toledo Mud Hens (Class AAA; International League) has managed to pull off something rare in the sports-business world: success in both baseball and pro hockey.

We covered the story of the ECHL's Toledo Walleye on our sister Arena Digest site today. The same nonprofit that owns and runs the Mud Hens also owns and runs the minor-league hockey team; Joe Napoli is president/GM of both teams, and there's plenty of overlap between the front offices. The crux of the issue: the Walleye are arguably one of the most successful franchises in minor-league hockey, and some fans want to see the team move up a level, to the AHL.

The bigger story, we think, is how successful both teams are in terms of financial stability and fan outreach. Indeed, though it would seem logical for a sports organization to own both hockey and baseball franchises -- the selling seasons are different so a salesforce is working year-round, and sponsors can be tapped for multiple venues -- it rarely works out that way. Horn Chen once owned the Wichita Wingnuts (independent; American Association) and the Wichita Thunder (ECHL) but has since sold both. Bob Naegele IIIMatt MajkaTom Garrity and Arnie Abens are attempting to pull off the same feat in Sioux Falls; the Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) do fine, but the Sioux Falls Pheasants (independent; American Association) need a heavy dose of TLC. And just ask Miles Wolff and Mark Cryan how easy it is to manage teams in two sports.

So give Joe Napoli and everyone associated with both the Mud Hens and Walleye a lot of credit. They've managed to pull off something very few minor-league sports owners have done -- successful cross-ownership of franchises in two totally different sports.


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