Though there’s some fan sentiment toward moving up to the AHL from the lower-level ECHL, it sounds like Toledo Walleye management is happy to stay at their present level.
The Walleye franchise is arguably one of the tops in all of minor-league hockey; launched by the same nonprofit that owns the successful Toledo Mud Hens, the top farm team of the Detroit Tigers, the team drew over 6,000 fans a game and turned a profit. Many Mud Hens fans are also Walleye fans, and those Mud Hens are used to seeing the Tigers’ top prospects move through town. If the Walleye moved up to the AHL — as Charlotte and Oklahoma City have in recent years — there would be a higher level of play for the Walleye as well.
While that’s debatable — not every NHL sends a top prospect to the AHL — it’s also debatable whether it’s worth it for the Walleye management to pursue any more up. For starters, there’s a financial hit in having to buy an AHL franchise and selling the ECHL franchise (if you can; Charlotte Checkers ownership ate the cost of their old ECHL membership after failing to find an buyer). Then there’s the issue of higher travel costs associated with the AHL. And then there’s the reality the Detroit Red Wings might not be too eager to sever ties with their top farm team in Grand Rapids.
Rachel Lenzi does a nice job in addressing many of these issues and why the Walleye probably won’t move. The reality is that the franchise probably wouldn’t make that much more money as an AHL team at this time: attendance is high, revenues are good, and the move probably won’t generate enough additional revenue to justify the major expenditures.
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