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Volume 21 No. 1
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Forty Under 40

The last 18 months have been without question the most difficult in the career of Sam Kennedy, Boston Red Sox chief operating officer and Fenway Sports Management president. The same could be said, in fact, for anybody on the staff of the Fenway Sports Group parent company.

A historic free fall for the Red Sox out of the 2011 pennant chase. The chicken-and-beer clubhouse drama. A disastrous, 93-loss experiment last year with Bobby Valentine as manager. Sagging interest in Red Sox tickets, and a league-record sellout streak poised to soon end. Rising fan anger directed toward lead executives John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino.

Through it all, though, the Red Sox’s struggles were the type for which most other MLB franchises would gladly trade their own. Boston ended the 2012 season with 3.04 million in attendance, eighth in MLB and the club’s fifth straight year above 3 million. The franchise opened JetBlue Park, the club’s new spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., that seeks to re-create the eccentricities of Fenway Park, to rave reviews.

In addition, Boston last spring engineered a tasteful commemoration of Fenway’s 100th anniversary; hosted several successful concerts at the ballpark, including Bruce Springsteen and Roger Waters; brought sister club Liverpool FC from England to Fenway for a match in its North American summer tour; and deepened its ties with NBA superstar and FSM client LeBron James.

In short, the business of the Red Sox and FSM remained essentially on track, thanks in large part to the steady guidance of Kennedy.

“There were some real lessons through all of this in the power of chemistry, and the power of relationships,” Kennedy said. “This whole period really showed it’s all about the people in this business, and how you have to have the right people in the right places at all times. But we also learned very clearly that you can’t rely strictly on team performance. The business approaches in a lot of ways stay the same, winning or losing.”

A crisis such as what has occurred in Boston is precisely the kind of time when team sponsors often turn in other directions or reduce their activation. But in keeping with Fenway Sports Group’s profile as a sponsor-friendly operation, Kennedy made it his mission during the saga to stay closely engaged with each of the key clients of the Red Sox and FSM.

“Sam is so customer-focused,” said Marty St. George, senior vice president of marketing and commercial strategy for JetBlue. The airline, a Red Sox sponsor since 2008, two years ago closed on an eight-year contract extension that included the naming rights for JetBlue Park. It remains one of the club’s most active partners. “He’s simply not a ‘no’ guy. He hates the word. Partnering with the Red Sox is a long game for us. We’re in for the long haul, and Sam’s a big part of that.”

St. George tells a story from several years ago, when Kennedy dreamed up an idea for JetBlue to sponsor the departing of the team’s equipment truck each February for spring training. Truck Day, as it is often called in baseball circles, is an early sign of the coming spring and a major photo opportunity. JetBlue’s logo is now emblazoned on the Red Sox’s truck is it makes the nearly 1,500-mile journey south.

“Truck Day just hadn’t been done in sponsor circles, and it’s such a big deal in Boston,” St. George said. “But that’s Sam. He loves ideas and is so creative.”

The restoration of the Red Sox is far from complete, and the club is seen by many around baseball as still looking upward at a stacked AL East competition. But Kennedy says the organization is now more prepared for the coming challenges.

“We learned a lot. No question about it,” he said. “We’ve turned the page on the calendar and are very optimistic about what’s in front of us.”

— Eric Fisher

Age: 39
Title: Chief operating officer/president
ORGANIZATIONS: Boston Red Sox/Fenway Sports Management
Education: B.S., American studies, Trinity College
Family: Wife, Amanda; children Jimmy (9) and Ally (8)
Career: New York Yankees (1995); WABC-AM 770 (1995); WFAN-AM 660 (1996); San Diego Padres (1996-2002); current organizations since 2002
* Hall of Fame distinction is for three-time winners

First Job: Selling hats and T-shirts at Fenway Park for the D’Angelo family (’47 Brand) in summer 1987

Best business advice received: Get to people who can say yes.
Worst advice received: Sometimes it can wait until tomorrow.
IPOD PLAYLIST: Jason Aldean, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake (prepping for summer 2013 at Fenway)
Farthest traveled from U.S.: Tokyo
Stress release: Ice hockey every Monday night
Pet peeve: Lack of a sense of urgency
Guilty pleasure: Paying a company to snowplow our driveway
Hockey East commissioner
FAVORITE MOVIE LINE: “Maybe it’s something really cool that I don’t even know about. You know, and uh, and I started feeling … what? What? I thought we were in the trust tree, in the nest. Are we not?” (“Old School”)