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Published: Thursday, 10/17/2013 - Updated: 9 months ago

WALLEYE SEASON PREVIEW

Unique name reels in merchandise buyers

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Walleye get plenty of requests for merchandise and it isn’t all local.

The team has had orders from as far away as Great Britain. One day a fisherman from Minnesota stopped by the Huntington Center.

He wasn’t so much a fan of hockey as he was a fan of catching walleye and could wear a long-sleeved sweatshirt while angling.

Yet the bulk of orders come from hockey fans.

“There’s hockey enthusiasts all over the country that love getting branded merchandise of teams, either because they love the team name or the team logo, or they’re just a fan of minor league hockey,” said Craig Katz, the Walleye’s director of merchandise or licensing.

“We get orders all the time from places that are outside of our region.

Sometimes it’s because someone will tell us, ‘You guys have the coolest stuff I’ve seen in minor league hockey.’”

Of the ECHL’s 22 organizations, the Walleye had the highest merchandise sales for the 2012-2013 season.

While Katz would not disclose financial totals of merchandise sales, citing an organizational policy, he pointed out factors both in-house and externally, that have helped merchandise sales.

In addition to the Swamp Shop on Jefferson Avenue, the Walleye have three walk-in merchandise stores inside of the Huntington Center on game nights.

Katz said online traffic and sales have also boosted the the overall sales, and the recently redesigned website includes a portal for the Swamp Shop and Walleye merchandise (swampshop.milbstore.com).

Some of the Walleye’s most popular-selling items include mainstays such as hooded sweatshirts and long-sleeved t-shirts — hockey is a cold-weather sport, after all — and the Under Armour line of gear that includes t-shirts, polo shirts, baseball caps and jackets.

The Walleye also have out-of-the-ordinary items such as miniature hockey sticks, hockey pucks and even a foam fish hat. Among the more popular-selling novelty items are cowbells

printed with the Walleye logo and foam fingers.

One more factor helps the popularity of Walleye merchandise: the team’s direct association with the Mud Hens, among the more popular minor league baseball teams in merchandise.

“Everyone on the staff works for both teams, and those two teams are so intertwined with each other,” Katz said. “The web store is for both the Mud Hens and the Walleye, and that might bring fans who might not be interested in minor league hockey.”

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.



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