SBJ/May 13-19, 2013/Facilities

Victories aren’t yet filling Fenway Park again for the Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox were the best team in baseball last week, but paid attendance in April at Fenway Park, where the team recently saw a nearly 10-year sellout streak end, struggled to crack 30,000 even when the sun shined.

Despite an extraordinary 17-game home schedule in April, the Red Sox sold out three times at Fenway, which holds a little more than 37,000 fans. The team remains just barely in MLB’s top 10 for attendance.

The Sox sold out every home game in a sellout streak that lasted from May 2003 until April 10, 2013, but the seeds of the streak’s end were planted last season, the Red Sox’s worst since 1965.

The Red Sox, whose sellout streak ended last month, sold out Fenway three times in April.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The trailing nature of fan enthusiasm was on display last May, when the local newspapers reported on empty Fenway seats that made the word “sellout” ring hollow. Still, Sam Kennedy, Red Sox executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the team was distributing more tickets than the park’s capacity, and giving away only 800 a game on average.

“This is true in all of professional sports,” Kennedy said. “You don’t feel the effects on your attendance in the current year, until the end of the year. You really feel the effects of a negative season or a positive season in the following year, because so many tickets are purchased in the offseason.”

This year, the Red Sox are at the top of their division, and the Red Sox front office has even temporarily dropped the price of beer, but stringing together sellouts has proved tough.

On the secondary market, Red Sox tickets are selling at significant discounts off face value. A $52 ticket for a game last week against the Minnesota Twins was listed on reseller Fenway Ticket King for $34 in the days ahead of the game.

At list prices, Fenway tickets remain the most expensive in baseball. The Sox sport the highest average ticket price of $53.38, edging out the New York Yankees, and again top Team Marketing Report’s MLB Fan Cost Index, which measures the total cost of taking a family to a game.

Even a surge of civic pride did not push Fenway attendance over the sellout limit April 20, the first home game after the Boston Marathon bombings — although it undoubtedly brought out many of the 35,000-plus who paid to see the game.

Playoff appearances by the Boston Bruins and Celtics are also a factor, said Ace Ticket owner Jim Holzman. Fans who have Red Sox tickets have been selling them for as low as half their face value, he said.

If the Red Sox stay hot, fans will start coming through the gates again, said Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economist who studies the sport. Baseball attendance is based on emotion, he said, and emotion lags performance.

“Over time, an avidity of fandom builds up, and then it peaks and it’s still responding to things that happened on the team weeks or months ahead of time,” Zimbalist said. “It might hit a bottom on the cycle and the team starts doing well, but the attendance stays on the bottom.”

Galen Moore writes for the Boston Business Journal, an affiliated publication.
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