Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fenway Forever – it makes economic and business sense

It is one of sports true and lasting cathedrals. Opened on April 20, 1912, Fenway Park remains a lasting legacy to what is good about sports. The Yankees play in a House that Steinbrenner Built forsaking the House that Ruth Built a year ago. Chicago’s Wrigley Field that opened in 1916 is almost as magical as Fenway. The Green Bay Packers Lambeau Field remains a magical destination for sports fans. Other than Fenway, Wrigley and Lambeau, professional sports franchises have long forgotten about the shrines they once played in, in favour of maximizing revenue generation.

Tuesday, the Boston Red Sox announced the last in a series of Fenway Park renovations the organization has undertaken in the last decade.

Three new state-of-the-art High Definition video display and scoring systems, upgrades to the Gate D concourse including new and extended concession areas, and the repair, waterproofing and seat replacements of the lower seating bowl in Right Field highlight the 2011 list.

This off-season will mark the final year of major annual improvements to the ballpark, thus completing a ten-year plan. This year's effort fulfills a pledge made by ownership upon acquisition of the club and reaffirmed in 2005, to improve every facet of the ballpark, while preserving and protecting the ballpark for future generations. The improvements completed at Fenway Park over the past ten years have been designed to ensure that the park will remain structurally sound and the home of the Boston Red Sox, for the next 30-40 years.

With a 2010-2011 off-season investment estimated at $40 million, the investment for the 10 year program is estimated to total approximately $285 million, the largest investment in the history of the almost 99-year old iconic ballpark.

"This is the last year of a ten-year series of improvements to Fenway Park that has given this venerable old ballpark new life," said Red Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino. "With more seats and more standing room, wide open concourses, a reinforced structure, new and improved restroom facilities, and many more food and beverage options for our fans, Fenway Park remains vibrant and appealing leading up to its 100th Anniversary in 2012."

Additional work being planned for this off-season includes the concrete repair, waterproofing, and seat replacements of the Right Field lower seating bowl originally constructed in 1933-34. This will mark the completion of the repair and waterproofing of the entire lower seating bowl, a project started with the Bleachers in 2007 and continued with the original 1912 bowl in 2008 and the 1933-34 Left Field seating bowl in 2009.

Existing Dugout, Field Box and Loge Box seats will be replaced by new seats with cup holders on a new concrete base. Dugout and Field Box seats will also be padded. As in previous years, Grandstand seats in Right Field will be refurbished and fitted with self-rising mechanisms that enable the seat to retract automatically once a patron stands up. This will allow for more room in the seating rows and improved mobility for fans entering or exiting the rows.

Other projects underway include new and expanded concession and merchandise stands in the Gate D area and a repaired and upgraded ground level concourse stretching from Gate D to Gate C that will include utility upgrades, new concrete concourse flooring and life safety improvements.

All off-season improvements were designed by D'Agostino Izzo & Quirk of Somerville, MA, and overseen by Ipswich Associates of Boston, MA, who will serve as the Program Manager. The concrete repair work will be completed by NER Construction of Wilmington, MA. The General Contractor for the off-season projects will be Walsh Brothers of Boston, MA.

Fenway Park Improvements 2002-2011:

Fenway Park has undergone a series of annual improvements since the New England Sports Ventures (NESV) purchased the team in 2002. The group assembled by John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino was the only candidate vying for ownership of the ballclub that proposed to save and improve Fenway Park, America's oldest and smallest ballpark. The team has since focused on a series of improvements, with goals of increasing capacity by at least 10%; improving fan amenities such as concessions, restrooms and entry points; ADA accessibility and circulation including elevators and stairs; and, also improving the ballpark exterior with new year-round restaurants, wider sidewalks, street trees and lighting.

Most notable among these improvements are:

• 2002: New Dugout Seats; Yawkey Way Concourse.
• 2003: Green Monster Seats; Big Concourse; Expanded Dugout Seats; New Green Monster Manual Scoreboard.
• 2004: Right Field Roof Deck; Third Base Concourse.
• 2005: First Base Deck; 'Game On' Restaurant; New Playing Field
• 2006: EMC Club; State Street Pavilion Level; Renovated Private Suites; Distributed Sound System
• 2007: Steiner Third Base Deck; Renovated Private Suites
• 2008: Expansion of Seating on State Street Pavilion Level, Coca-Cola Corner; Concrete Repair and Waterproofing of Bleachers and new seats; 'The Bleacher Bar'.
• 2009: Right Field Roof Box Expansion; Concrete Repair and Waterproofing of the original 1912 Seating Bowl and new seats; Repairs to the Jeano Building, including the replacement of its roof and restoration of the windows and doors; New Front Row Seats.
• 2010: Concrete Repair and Waterproofing of the 1933-34 left Field Lower Seating Bowl; New Home Plate Deck, Concession Stands and Restrooms.

On March 23, 2005 the Red Sox ownership group announced that as far as they were concerned Fenway Park is the home of the Red Sox.

"It is an honor to have the opportunity to protect and preserve Fenway Park," said Principal Owner John Henry. "We see how its history and charm attract people from all over the world, and how it helps connect generations within families.

"We will continue to listen to our fans and make improvements inside the park, at our own private expense, as we have done over these past three years."

"When we set out to purchase this franchise and this ballpark, we were the only group that promised to save Fenway Park if at all possible," Chairman Tom Werner said. "We believed we could, and we committed to try. Now, through the success of the improvements made thus far, and with those slated to come, we have kept our promise. We have honored our commitment to preserve and improve Fenway Park."

"We have lived at Fenway Park for more than three years," President/CEO Larry Lucchino said. "We have studied it in detail. We have studied the Fenway, Kenmore, and Longwood neighborhoods, which are essential components of this ballpark's life and our fans' experiences. We have made improvements each of the last three years, and we have major improvements on tap for the next several years. It's time to culminate this courtship with a loud, clear, long-term public commitment. We are proud that Fenway Park will be our home for years to come, and we are confident it will generate the revenue we need to be successful."

The real question does it make good business sense for the Red Sox to stay at Fenway Park beyond the stadiums 2012 centennial or should Henry, Werner and Lucchino look at all of their options?

The Red Sox then owned by the Yawkey Foundation proposed a replacement for Fenway Park in 1999 according to Baseball Digest. Several sites were proposed by the team for a new ballpark, but many individuals, as well as the city of Boston, expressed an interest in refurbishing Fenway Park. An organization called Save Fenway Park! was organized in 1998 to promote ways to preserve the old ballpark. The reluctance the Yawkey Foundation faced in building a new stadium for the Red Sox convinced Red Sox CEO John Harrington it was time for the Yawkey Foundation to get out of the baseball business and sell the Red Sox.

On January 17, 2002, a day after a new Red Sox ownership group was approved, prospective club president Larry Lucchino announced plans to hire architect and urban planner Janet Marie Smith to oversee stadium issues in Boston. Smith played a major role in the design of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore and Turner Field in Atlanta. This action began to fulfill the promise that the new owners made to preserve Fenway Park instead of building a new ballpark. The team has been gradually adding seats where they can, primarily on the roof down the base lines and, most notably, 274 seats above the "Green Monster" in left field.

Fenway Park is home of one of the more remarkable sports streaks – 901 consecutive sell-outs. The last time Fenway Park wasn’t sold out – May 14, 2003 when the Texas Rangers were the visitors.

Fenway Park’s capacity for the 2010 season: 37,402 (night), 36,974 (day). The stadium has 40 suites. The Red Sox average ticket price for the 2010 season was $52.32 – not the highest average ticket prices in Major League Baseball. The Cubs hold that honor at $52.56 and both teams are a shade ahead of the Yankees $51.83 average price. Both Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium seat more people but the Red Sox have for the nearly eight full baseball seasons, eight years of hosting 81 home dates proven to be the toughest ticket in sports. There have been plenty of tickets for games at Fenway Park available through the secondary ticket marketplace, but as far as the Red Sox are concerned their games are sold out.

In today’s crowded sports marketplace Fenway Park seems just about right. A capacity right around 37,000, 40 suites and with the Green Monster seats a sprinkling of seating that can generate extra revenue.

It just does not make sense for the Red Sox ownership group to consider a new Fenway Parka along the lines of what George Steinbrenner tried to do with the new Yankee Stadium. The Yankees attempted to rebuild Yankee Stadium, with several subtle changes. The Yankees decreased the seating capacity, added some suites but focused their efforts on luxury or club seating and many “interesting amenities”, restaurants and other additions with the goal of building the Yankees revenue base.

The key difference is the size of the New York market as compared to the Boston market. New York is home to corporate America, the greater New York area is home to close to 30 million people. Greater Boston is tenth in population among U.S. metropolitan statistical areas in the United States, home to over 4.4 million people.

As much as it made economic sense for the Yankees to recreate Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox have focused their efforts on creating every lost dollar they can from the most endearing sports facility today – Fenway Park. For the Red Sox, that makes for both good business and great baseball.

For this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: Ballpark Digest, Save Fenway and

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