Sox owners have positive vibe about 2010
In state-of-the-team address, trio touches on tickets, Fenway
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As the 2010 Red Sox came out for their first full-squad workout of Spring Training on Wednesday, an enthusiastic horde of followers hollered and screeched as the players strode onto the field. It was yet another example of the dedication consistently displayed by one of the most rabid fan bases in sports.
In less than six weeks, the venue will switch to Fenway Park, and a packed house will be on hand when the Red Sox open their season against the Yankees on Easter Sunday night.
As the three leaders of Boston's ownership group -- John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino -- held court for their annual state-of-the-team address on Wednesday morning, one question that came up is whether they thought Fenway's record-setting sellout streak would continue through another season.
The streak started on May 15, 2003.
"It's always a challenge," said Lucchino, the team's CEO. "We're at 550 [sellouts] and counting. It is a challenge. But we think fan loyalty is so broad and so deep that we think there's a good chance that it will continue. But once you get to this level, you're at a new place, and it's very hard to predict what's going to happen."
The Red Sox admit that last year at this time, they were concerned that the streak would come to an end.
"We were," said Henry, the club's principal owner. "It was a tough, tough economy last year. I don't know how much better it is this year. It certainly feels better. We were surprised that our revenues were as strong as they've been."
Though sellouts might not directly translate into wins and losses, there is likely some cause and effect. The Red Sox have been a dominant home team for the better part of seven seasons -- the same period the streak has been going on.
"I do think the sellouts affect the team," Lucchino said. "There is nothing like playing in front of a full ballpark, a completely sold-out Fenway Park, in terms of the energy and electricity that's in the ballpark. Our players talk about it all the time -- particularly players coming over for the first time, how great it is that it's full every night."
Even though the Red Sox are a team that seems like it can essentially sell itself at times, the ownership trio -- which kiddingly still refers to themselves as the "new owners" -- knows better than to get complacent.
"We are roughly equivalent to where we were a year ago in ticket sales, maybe a tick behind," said Lucchino. "That may be more of a timing issue. But we've got our work cut out for us with respect to corporate partnerships and sponsorships. This is the critical time of year, the next two months or so, to bring all that in. It's still a challenge."
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Ultimately, what sells best is the product on the field, and Henry once again gave general manager Theo Epstein a generous amount of money to spend on players, culminating in the addition of John Lackey, Marco Scutaro, Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre.
"I think it's a very strong team," said Henry. "People are talking about offense. Theo reminded us today that essentially the Angels and the Red Sox had the second-best offenses in baseball last year. We think this is a very strong team, stronger than last year. Last year, when we went into the playoffs, we felt it was going to be a very strong team through the top starters. This year, we have again six very strong starters, perhaps the six strongest starters. We're always coming to camp with what seems like six, knowing that sometimes it's tough to have four strong starters healthy through the entire season. I feel very positively about this team."
"This is our ninth year, and one thing we've been saying since Day 1 is that our obligation is to build a team that is worthy of fan support, year in and year out," Lucchino said. "We think we have done that. We think that Theo and the baseball operations people have done a sensational job in the offseason to ensure that we have a team worthy of fan support. It has some interesting features. There's a balance to this team that's really important.
"People are focusing on offense. We've been saying from the beginning that it's all about balance. You've got to have defense, you've got to have some baserunning skills, you've got to have some power, you've got to hit for average, you've got to have guys who can walk and work the count. You've got to have it all, and this team has that, and hopefully that will be enough to make us successful. Secondly, there are some new players, new faces. I think our fans are going to be very interested in seeing and getting to know these new players who will obviously play a really important role in the success of this team at some critical positions."
In an interview session that lasted more than 30 minutes, the trio hit on a variety of topics.
No All-Star Game in 2012
Though Major League Baseball hasn't made an official announcement yet, it is expected that the 2012 All-Star Game will be in Kansas City instead of at Fenway, which will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary that year. The Red Sox did make a bid to get that game in Boston, but were denied.
"[We are] very disappointed, but what can you do?" said Henry.
"I think that [MLB] felt we had the All-Star Game in 1999 and there were other people who were also requesting it," Werner said. "We did make a valiant fight, because we all thought it was the right thing to do. Not just for the Red Sox, but for baseball. We don't win all the battles, [so we] turn the page."
Red Sox fans need not worry, however. The entire 2012 home season will have a ceremonious feel to it.
"It's a little early to be specific, but we are planning on a major celebration for the 100th anniversary," Lucchino said. "We intend to go out fairly soon with plans with a logo and get some help from the community. There's a lot to celebrate in 100 years of Fenway Park, and I can think of no other public facility that celebrated that anniversary -- except maybe the Roman Coliseum -- so it's worthy of a fairly sizable celebration."
Spring Training facility update
Speaking of 2012, that is also the year the Red Sox are expected to open their new state-of-the-art Spring Training stadium, which will remain in Lee County, Fla., where the club has trained since 1993. There was a recent report that said the project had been downsized because of the economy. However, Werner said that fans will not be disappointed by the end result. Details will be unveiled at some point soon.
"We're sensitive to the fact that the economy is still not as strong as it is, especially in Lee County," Werner said. "But we've had nothing but healthy, productive conversations with the county officials down here. We've had very good dialogue. I believe they'll be announcing something shortly about the plans. We're very pleased with the back and forth and the dialogue. When they announce something soon, I think there will be a lot of excitement about what we've accomplished so far."
How did Fenway recover from the Winter Classic?
There is no clear-cut answer for that yet. There was a skating rink on the Fenway sod for several weeks, which was showcased not just for the National Hockey League but also for college hockey, high school hockey and public skates.
"It's too soon to say how the field is after the game," Lucchino said. "It's obviously got a lot of wear and tear from the very successful Winter Classic. But it needs to be re-sodded. That process hasn't begun yet. We'll know better in about two or three weeks. But it requires re-sodding."
Lucchino said the Red Sox will only consider more hockey events at Fenway once they see how the field recovers this time around.
In it for the long haul
Though they are entering their ninth season as the "new owners," one thing that became clear during their media session is that no enthusiasm has been lost among the group.
"We're not going anywhere," Henry said. "We love this franchise. We speak every day on the phone seven days a week, talking about it. Two days a week, we have scheduled meetings. The other five days, we're talking about it. I might talk with Larry about something; Tom might talk to someone else. We're so committed to this franchise.
"We're not going anywhere. We were saying today as we were driving over, that these eight years have been so much fun and so rewarding for us personally. The three of us went to dinner last night -- it's a celebration, really. That's how much we enjoy what we're doing. We're not going anywhere. We love this franchise."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.