Red Sox owners back up words
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- They're entering the ninth year of their reign as Red Sox owners, one that principal owner John W. Henry said Wednesday will not end any time soon ("We're not going anywhere").
Let's check the scorecard against the promises CEO Larry Lucchino said were made when Henry, Lucchino and chairman Tom Werner purchased the club at the end of 2001.
•"Field a team worthy of fans' support and win multiple World Series."
•"Preserve, protect, improve and enhance Fenway Park."
•"Aggressively market this team in ways that hadn't been done before, not just in the city, but regionally, throughout New England and even nationally."
•"To be an active participant in the charitable work of the community."
A 4-for-4 near-decade, worthy of the self-satisfied smiles and expressions of a job well done. In so many ways, the "Three Amigos" have been model owners for New England's most iconic franchise.
"We said something a bit cocky when we came in, that we'd try to win multiple World Series," Werner said Wednesday morning, "and hopefully we won't stop at two."
But there was something else Henry said shortly after ownership changed hands that proved as prophetic.
"I think the fans are more interested in whether they have a competitive team than in whether or not they're paying a little more," Henry said.
The owner made that comment after one of the new group's first acts, raising ticket prices, something the previous Sox caretaker, John Harrington, had done in each of the previous six years.
In 2002, the Henry group kept the price of the cheapest seats between $18 and $25, while raising the price of the most expensive seats to $60.
Fast-forward to 2010 and the most recent ticket increase, one in which the cheapest seats can be had for $12, the most expensive -- dugout field seats that didn't exist in '02 -- are $328, and field box seats are $130, more than double what they cost back in '02.
All that winning -- an average of 95 W's a year for Team Henry -- has come at a steep price. One, as Henry correctly forecast, Sox fans have been willing to pay, forking out even more cash on the secondary ticket markets for the right to make the pilgrimage to Yawkey Way.
The record streak of Fenway Park sellouts, an achievement as impressive in its own way as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1941, is at 550, with no signs of ending any time soon. Even as MLB attendance overall dropped 6.58 percent in 2009, the streak has proved recession-proof.
"It is a challenge," Lucchino said, "but we think that the fan loyalty is so broad and so deep that there's a good chance it will continue. 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 same could be said about the Sox's payroll -- at around $170 million, the highest in team history -- and ticket prices.
"We spent significantly more money this year than we did last year," Henry said. "We knew we had certain goals, but we didn't know for sure we were going to spend as much. We didn't know if the opportunity was there."
In Henry's view, the 2010 team is "a very strong team, even stronger than last year." There is a price to be paid for that strength, one that is passed on to the game's most loyal fan base.
Say this for Henry: He never promised otherwise. The Red Sox have been relentless in trying to create other revenue streams, but in the industry's smallest ballpark, much of the burden still falls on the ticket buyer. It's a burden that so far, Sox fans have been willing to absorb.
Back in the beginning, Henry said this: "I think the answer probably is, you've got to try and have cheap seats and expensive seats, and maybe the gulf between the two isn't large enough."
That's no longer the case. That gulf is now large enough to float Henry's yacht, and fans who once could afford to splurge for the best Fenway had to offer have to think long and hard before they do so now.
But you still can line up for the championship parade for free.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.
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