When NESN periodically broadcasts a historic Red Sox game during the off-season — say, Roger Clemens’s record-setting 20-strikeout performance in 1986 — the vast swaths of empty seats are enough to cause a sharp sense of wistfulness for many fans. Considering the current vogue for the team, it’s hard to believe that fewer than 14,000 paying customers turned out on that April night.
In recent years, Sox buffs have endured mind-numbing waits — typically three, four, or five hours — for just an opportunity to buy a restricted number of tickets during the team’s annual online sale in late January. On January 26, though, scores of Sox enthusiasts found themselves shut out, facing a meager selection, or able to buy just a single pair of decent tickets after a 12-hour purgatory in the dreaded online Virtual Waiting Room at redsox.com.
For some long-time fans, it added insult to injury to see how scores of tickets were quickly re-offered that day — at significantly marked up prices — on StubHub, the Internet-based ticket re-seller.
Considering the continually growing popularity of the Sox, who have won two world championships in the past four seasons, and whose home is the nearly 96-year-old Fenway Park — the smallest ballpark in the Major Leagues, with a maximum capacity right around 39,000 — the situation is a by-product of the intense demand for the most coveted tickets in baseball.
Making the already-feverish competition even worse, the market now spreads to the Far East, thanks to the Red Sox (who will open the 2008 season in Tokyo on March 25) having this past year added Japanese imports Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima to their roster.
All this represents a massive makeover from the 1980s, when homeless people from Kenmore Square, and anyone else who wanted to come in, were freely admitted to Fenway Park once games were well under way.
The price of Sox tickets has soared during the past five years, with right-field boxes climbing from $37 to $50, loge seats from $65 to $90, and field boxes from $70 to $125. The team has done a better job of holding the line at the bottom end — lower bleachers have increased from $18 to $26, upper bleachers from $10 to $12, and standing-room tickets from $18 to $20. Yet the Sox have also added capacity — and revenue — through the innovative creation of new premium seating (Green Monster seats, $160; pavilion-club seats, $165 to $215; and right-field roof-deck seats, $115), as well as a lesser amount of new cheap seats (Conigliaro’s Corner, $25).
Although these prices, which jumped a total of nine percent over the past season, are the highest in baseball, there’s little doubt that the tickets are worth even more. As the John Henry–Tom Werner–Larry Lucchino ownership group has reinvented the Red Sox’ identity — from poignant losers who would invariably pull defeat from the jaws of victory, to the dominant baseball power of the new millennium — the Sox have sold out 388 consecutive home games since early in the 2003 season. Toward the end of this summer, the team should break the Cleveland Indians’ Major League record from the ’90s of 455 consecutive sellouts.
Yet all this success poses a certain peril for the Red Sox: grassroots supporters’ frustration with the intensifying struggle to see their favorite team play in person.
The issue has grown so problematic that throngs of New Englanders now flock to see the Sox in Baltimore, Tampa, Toronto, you name it — or at least to see the big leaguers of tomorrow play for the club’s top minor-league affiliates in Portland, Maine, and Pawtucket, Rhode Island — anywhere it’s easier to get a ticket than at fabled Fenway Park.
The stakes for the Sox
The simmering discontent in Sox Nation could be seen during the team’s January 26 online sale, when some of those attempting to buy tickets used a discussion thread at the Sox-obsessive site Sons of Sam Horn (sonsofsamhorn.net) to blame the difficulty of obtaining tickets at face value on a relationship struck this past year between StubHub and Major League Baseball.
Ngruz25, one of the posters, described the dissatisfaction of many Sox fans: “I’m looking for tickets for a Wednesday night game against Texas, in August (8–13, to be exact). I’ll gladly take bleacher tickets,” which have either a $12 or $26 face value. “This waiting room stuff isn’t working any, and I can’t sit here all day, so I go check StubHub. Why are there ‘Up to 10’ and ‘Up to 8’ tickets available for virtually every bleacher section, and for every game of the Texas series . . . and these tickets [for all seats] range from about $80–$589 apiece? Fuck the heck? Who is selling these seats? Independent ticket brokers? Corporations that own the seats? Something far [more] sinister?”