SBJ/June 4-10, 2012/Franchises

Red Sox, Phils still streaking, but empty seats draw attention

As MLB enjoys an attendance spike to start the 2012 season, the two clubs with the league’s longest consecutive sellout streaks are experiencing increased no-shows and heightened local scrutiny on the veracity of their records.

The Phillies, despite empty seats, still lead all MLB clubs in average attendance.
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The Boston Red Sox own an MLB-record 737-games-and-counting sellout streak at Fenway Park, and the Philadelphia Phillies are second-best in the sport with an active streak of 228 straight games at Citizens Bank Park, both through May 29. Both, however, sat in last place in their respective divisions at press time.

Amid their respective on-field woes and player injuries, empty seats have become much more frequent sights at both ballparks, a startling reversal from years of regularly packed houses.

Both the Red Sox and Phillies acknowledged no-show rates increased in the season’s early going, especially for weekday and weeknight games and those played in uncertain weather. The Red Sox’s no-show rate now stands at 13.6 percent, roughly equal to a similar point last year, and the club’s season-ticket renewals and single-game advance ticket sales each are slightly trailing last year’s pace.

As the empty seats have multiplied, local media in Boston most notably have called the integrity of the Fenway Park streak into question, in part pointing to the inclusion of complimentary tickets in the totals. Similar questions have been raised to a lesser degree in Philadelphia, and the Phillies last week employed a buy-one-get-one-free ticket offer for certain seats to Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The inquiries are understandable and natural. The visual isn’t always good,” said Sam Kennedy, Red Sox chief operating officer. “So we have certainly seen an influx of questions so far this year on how we’re doing selling tickets. And fortunately, the answer on a game-by-game basis on the primary market is that we’re still doing well, and I’m very optimistic about the summer.”

The situations in Boston and Philadelphia contrast somewhat with attendance leaguewide, which at press time was up by about 6.5 percent over the same point last season, even stronger than the 3 percent to 5 percent projected by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

The secondary ticket market is also softer for both the Phillies and the Red Sox. The average listing price for the first 25 Red Sox home games this season was $117.47, down more than 11 percent from the same point a year ago, according to TiqIQ, a New York-based ticket aggregator that researches ticket resellers. Twelve of those initial Boston games had ticket listings below $15 a seat, compared with six such games in the same period last year. The Phillies, according to TiqIQ data, have also seen average secondary market listing prices fall by 11 percent to $70.28 a seat, and 10 games with sub-$15 tickets, compared with just two in the same period last year.

Still, officials for both clubs argued that the rancor over the unfilled seats is perhaps overstated. The Phillies once again are leading all MLB clubs in average attendance, with a mark of 44,937 a game at press time, remaining in the top overall position it held last year. The Red Sox rank seventh, with an average of 37,598, inhibited in part by the smaller capacity of Fenway Park, and actually are slightly up in per-game attendance.

And both clubs say they are adhering to typical industry practices of reporting tickets distributed for their attendance figures, including complimentary tickets, as opposed to actual turnstile counts.

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