Friday, September 01, 2006

At Fenway, they’re waving the white flags

White flags were being waved throughout Red Sox Nation Thursday, a sign of the times in New England. With a month left in the 2006 Major League Baseball regular season, after making the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, and winning the teams first World Series in 86 years in 2004, the Red Sox will be on the outside looking in when the 2006 MLB post-season begins.

The first indication, Red Sox Replay the ticket board where Red Sox season ticket holders can sell tickets they don’t want to use for upcoming games, for the first time in more then three years listed hundreds of tickets to the Red Sox remaining home games. Late Thursday afternoon, hours before David Wells was scheduled to start the first game of the teams’ Labor Day weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Red Sox announced Wells would be pulled from the start replaced by Julian Tavarez. Tavarez hasn’t started a game for the Red Sox in 2006. His 52 appearances have all come out of the bullpen.

For those unfamiliar with Red Sox Replay, the Red Sox allow season ticket holders to post tickets for resell on the board and resell the tickets at face value. There is no charge for season ticket holders to post tickets. Tickets can only be resold at face value. There is a $65 surcharge if you want to buy tickets. The surcharge is a one time annual fee. It’s a seamless system. Season ticket holders have their account credited. Red Sox tickets all have a bar code. The Red Sox cancel the bar code on the original tickets, and then reissue the tickets with a new barcode. The re-released tickets are then left at Fenway Park’s box office.

A snapshot of tickets available at Red Sox Replay as of 5:00 PM Thursday, August 31, 2006:

Thu Aug 31
7:05PM EDT
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
(78 offers)

Fri Sep 01
7:05PM EDT
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
(72 offers)

Sat Sep 02
7:05PM EDT
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
(92 offers)

Sun Sep 03
2:05PM EDT
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
(93 offers)

Mon Sep 04
7:05PM EDT
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
(96 offers)

Tue Sep 05
7:05PM EDT
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
(69 offers)

Wed Sep 06
7:05PM EDT
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
(50 offers)

Fri Sep 08
7:05PM EDT
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
(40 offers)

Sat Sep 09
7:05PM EDT
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
(30 offers)

Sun Sep 10
2:05PM EDT
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
(32 offers)

Tue Sep 19
7:05PM EDT
MINNESOTA TWINS
(42 offers)

Wed Sep 20
7:05PM EDT
MINNESOTA TWINS
(32 offers)

Thu Sep 21
7:05PM EDT
MINNESOTA TWINS
(35 offers)

Tue Sep 26
7:05PM EDT
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
(43 offers)

Wed Sep 27
7:05PM EDT
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
(40 offers)

Fri Sep 29
7:05PM EDT
BALTIMORE ORIOLES
(17 offers)

Sat Sep 30
7:05PM EDT
BALTIMORE ORIOLES
(15 offers)

Sun Oct 01
2:05PM EDT
BALTIMORE ORIOLES
(15 offers)


It’s likely few if any Red Sox fans have been able to take advantage of the opportunity to buy tickets, and fewer knew about Red Sox Replay. As was the case for the 2004 and 2005 seasons the Red Sox sold out their complete ticket inventory before the start of the regular season. Red Sox Replay offered tickets occasionally in the first half of the season, rarely in the second of the season and never in September.

Everything changed two weeks ago – Black Friday, the end of the beginning for the Red Sox 2006 season, on August 18. If one went to Red Sox Replay that morning, the board was empty. The Red Sox lost a day/night doubleheader to the New York Yankees that day. The day began with the Red Sox a game and a half behind the Bronx Bombers. Two weeks later, the Red Sox are eight games behind the Yankees, having lost all five games to the Yankees. The team followed the Boston Massacre with a disasters west coast road trip losing their last six games.

The secondary ticket market has experienced a dramatic shift in the price of Red Sox tickets as well. According to a report in Thursday’s Boston Globe, overnight the Red Sox have become the easiest ticket in baseball. Grandstand tickets with a face value of $45 could be purchased on Craigslist at face value for Sunday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Similar seats for games in June sold for more then $150 on the same secondary ticketing outlet.

``Prices have dropped pretty drastically," Liz Brownell, 24, of Dedham who purchased a pair of grandstand tickets for Sunday’s game. ``Who wants to pay through the nose to see a lousy team play with third-string players?"

Benjamin Ewell, 25, of Arlington, Va., told the Boston Globe he was trying to sell three $20 standing-room tickets for Sunday. ``I'm definitely selling due to the recent woes," Ewell said. Before his boss anted up Wednesday and bought the tickets at face value, Ewell said, the best offer he had fielded on Craigslist was $30 for all three.

``Even if I had to eat the tickets, it's better than paying for the extra night at the hotel and suffering through another loss," said Ewell, a native of Shelburne, Vt., who planned to attend Saturday's game.

The Red Sox began a ten-game homestand Thursday night. The homestand includes games against the Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City Royals. The Red Sox have sold out every game at Fenway Park since May 15, 2003, and while the organization did sell out their complete ticket inventory before the first pitch of the regular season, the sellout streak is in serious jeopardy.

The Red Sox hold back 300 tickets for what the team calls walk-up (or day of game sales) for each of the teams’ 81 home games. Given the complete implosion of the Red Sox 2006 season in two short weeks, Red Sox officials told The Boston Globe they honestly believe the sellout streak may be coming to an end in the near future.

“The true test will be this upcoming homestand," said Ron Bumgarner, vice president of ticketing.

``With team performance also goes demand," Bumgarner said. ``We are keeping an eye out."

In a classic case of supply and demand, the best barometer for how hot any ticket is to a sports event is often determined by the capacity of the facility. Fenway Park has a capacity of 35,692 for day games and 36,108 for night games, the smallest in Major League Baseball. Red Sox management have leveraged Fenway’s capacity, the success the Red Sox have enjoyed on the field in the last decade, to drive the cost of Red Sox tickets into the stratosphere.

According to Team Marketing Report, the Red Sox average ticket price for the 2006 season is $46.46 the highest in Major League Baseball. TMR’s Fan Cost Index, which estimates what it would cost a family of four to attend a sports event pegs the FCI at Fenway for the 2006 season at $287.84. The cost of tickets increased by a modest 4.27% at Fenway this year. After winning their first World Series in 86 years, Red Sox tickets increased by 9.30% in 2005 to a league leading average ticket price of $44.56. The average ticket price for Red Sox games in 2004 was $40.77. 2003 -- $38.59. 2002 -- $39.68 (the first year under the teams’ current ownership group). According to TMR the Red Sox have had the highest average ticket price since the 1998 season. The Yankees had the highest average ticket price in 1997 -- $18.36. The Red Sox average ticket price nine years ago, in 1997 stood at $17.93.

In the last nine years, the average Red Sox ticket price has increased by more then 250 percent. If the law of supply and demand applies to Red Sox tickets, it appears Red Sox Nation is about to send a sobering message to John Henry and the teams’ management group – we’re prepared to pay the price your demanding for tickets but you better deliver a winning team each and every year.

Charles Steinberg, executive vice president of public affairs for the Red Sox, told The Boston Globe he expected the sellout streak -- the second-longest in major-league history -- to continue.

``If it ends by natural causes, then so be it," Steinberg said. ``The demand so far has shown no letup."

The Red Sox are eight games behind the Yankees and seven games behind the Chicago White Sox who lead in the race for the American League wild-card spot. Red Sox Nation may be abandoning ship but that hasn’t stopped the Red Sox from mailing out invoices for playoff and World Series seats to season-ticket holders.

In a classic example of ‘it ain’t over until it’s over’, the invoices mailed out last week from the Red Sox included: ``warm greetings as we drive through the `dog days' of August and plunge into the pennant chase in September." Later in the letter, the Sox wrote that ``the return of Curt Schilling and the reliability of other veterans such as Manny Ramirez, Trot Nixon, Tim Wakefield, Mike Timlin, Jason Varitek, and Doug Mirabelli have been gratifying."

The Red Sox problems on the field have more to do with an unpredecneted rash of injuries. In the last 30 days the Red Sox have lost their captain and catcher Jason Varitek, their shortstop Alex Gonzalez and their right fielder Trot Nixon to injuries. Then add in recent injuries to David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez and its easy to understand why the Red Sox have gone 2-12 in the last two weeks. Three starting pitchers are also on the disabled list: Matt Clement, Tim Wakefield and Jon Lester. 14 members of the Red Sox ‘regular’ lineup are either on the disabled list or are injured.

David Wells was pulled from his scheduled start hours before Thursday night’s game against the Blue Jays. If Red Sox fans where looking for a sign from management as to how Theo Epstein feels about the Red Sox chances of staging a comeback and salvaging their 2006 season, Theo had the same feeling Napoleon experienced at Waterloo – the Red Sox season is over. Wells locker has been cleaned out at Fenway Park. Trading Wells for prospects if the right baseball decision, it may however be the wrong business decision.

It sends a message to Red Sox Nation, the season is over, let’s start planning for 2007. Thinking along those lines might bring the Red Sox a prospect but it’s the last decision Red Sox Nation expected to see – the teams’ management giving up with a month to go in the regular season. Red Sox Nation owes the teams management a mulligan for the 2006 season.

Losing 14 regulars to injuries makes it next to impossible to win. On July 25 the Red Sox had a two and a half game lead on the Yankees and had the second best record in the American League. It’s easy to rationalize what has happened to the Red Sox season; however you can also make a strong argument for the teams’ implosion. However, with an average ticket price that has increased by 250 percent in the last nine seasons its even easier to appreciate why overnight the Boston Red Sox have become the easiest ticket in baseball.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: the Boston Globe