SBJ/January 6 - 12, 2003/Opinion

MLB, let's play two — teams in Fenway Park

If Major League Baseball truly wants to preserve the value of the Montreal Expos and minimize revenue loss in 2003 — as SportsBusiness Journal quoted MLB President and COO Bob DuPuy — it should reconsider the decision not to play the majority of Expos home games in an American League city.

While baseball conducts its process to find the team a permanent location, what better temporary home for the Expos than Fenway Park? In addition to playing 22 home games in San Juan, the Expos should host 50 games in Boston in the coming season, with a farewell midsummer home stand in Montreal.

Overnight, MLB could transform the Expos franchise from an economic albatross for the other teams into an enterprise that at least breaks even as it serves as a laboratory for innovative marketing and promotion. Instead of losing $300,000 per club — reported to be Major League Baseball's objective, after cutting payroll — the Expos not only could afford to keep their best players but could negotiate a higher minimum payroll to obtain players association approval to play home games in three cities.

Fenway Park could easily draw double the 10,000 per game the Expos enticed in 2002 with an average ticket price just over $6 (based on published statements by the Expos president of a $5 million ticket base). With a can't-refuse average price of $18 — less than the cost of most Red Sox bleacher tickets — ticket revenue would increase sixfold.

The biggest winners would be New England families and the hundreds of thousands of tourists and convention goers who want see a game in Fenway Park before it's renovated or wrecked but are shut out by ticket availability or prices.

Let's start by renaming the team with a moniker that would promote Boston as a world center of biotech: How about the Genomes? That would mean millions of dollars in retail sales of replica caps, jerseys, T-shirts and other licensed products.

Then market the Fenway mystique and the unique opportunity to see all of the National League teams and stars such as Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, Sammy Sosa and the Genomes' own Vladimir Guerrero. Price the tickets so that many more of the seats are offered at family-friendly levels with generous group rates. As an incentive to sell season tickets, offer priority to buy Red Sox tickets in the renovated expanded Fenway.

To appeal to more fans and accommodate scheduling of two teams, the Genomes could experiment with game times — such as duplicating the popular late morning Patriots Day start and offering child- and convention-friendly late afternoon weekday games.

Underemployed ushers, concession workers and cleaning crews could double their income opportunity, while operating management costs would be reduced by contracting with the Red Sox for all non-player-related functions.

Genomes marketers could experiment with more crowd-pleasing entertainment that is deemed either unnecessary or unseemly for the tradition-bound Red Sox games. New corporate sponsors, shut out by conflicts with existing Red Sox clients, could help promote the Genomes and their own business. An added bonus for the Red Sox and Major League Baseball would be the revenue from broadcasting 100 or more games on NESN and local stations. The Expos had no regular local television deal.

For the sagging New England economy, 50 or more events would help hotels, restaurants, taxicab drivers, souvenir stores and other businesses recover from the recession. It would means millions in additional sales and income tax revenue for the state.

The Red Sox owners and Major League Baseball could harvest much-needed political capital as they determine whether to renovate Fenway or build a new ballpark.

From baseball's perspective, not only would the Genomes produce an unbudgeted burst of revenue, but a summer in Boston would enhance the price the franchise could command from ownership groups in the Washington area, Portland, San Juan or wherever the Genomes find a permanent home.

One question remains unresolved: Where would the Genomes hold their parade next October?

Bob Ruxin is a sports attorney in Concord, Mass., and author of "An Athlete's Guide to Agents."

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