Thursday, June 18, 2009

Five Hundred

Last night, the Red Sox hosted their 500th straight sellout at Fenway Park. It’s a remarkable accomplishment, even on the surface. Dig a little deeper, and it becomes an amazing achievement.

Last year, the Red Sox passed the previous record held by the Indians of 455 straight games. The team that now holds the third longest streak is the Colorado Rockies, with 203 games. The interesting part about the three is how different the Sox are from the other two. The Rockies were a fairly new team opening a brand new ballpark. The excitement level was high enough for the expansion Rockies. The newness of them might have sold out any stadium in the country. Add to that a brand new beautiful park, and the sellout streak was on. Even with that excitement, the streak was only two and a half seasons. The Indians streak also started with its new ballpark. Jacobs Field was just a year old when the streak started. By then, the Jake was the crown jewel of baseball parks. I could imagine that a good many of the tickets sold were to visiting fans just wanting to take in the new park. Jacobs Field completely transformed the Cleveland downtown area. The revitalization kept attendance at the field going strong for a long time. For five and a half years, the Jake didn’t have an empty seat. (Although, there were reports at the end of the Indians taking some unsold seats off the market to preserve the streak).

The Red Sox were nothing like those two examples. They weren’t a new team like the Rockies. They had been around for over 100 years when the streak started. They certainly weren’t in a new stadium. In fact, Fenway Park was the oldest park in the league for sellout number one. It is, admittedly, a small park. That certainly helps fill all the seats. But, it’s not the smallest park in the league, and it’s the only one selling out 500 straight games. It can’t even be attributed to championship glow. When the streak started in May of 2003, the Sox were coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs. It had even been a few years since their last trip to the ALCS. So, how did it happen?

The only answer I can come up with is quality marketing, and a quality product. The quality product is obvious. Even in the early years of the streak, the team had stars worth coming out for. Even Yankee Stadium might sell out if Pedro was starting with Nomar and Manny behind him. Naturally, once the Sox won it all in 2004, the afterglow helped immensely to draw the fans. With 2 titles in the last 5 years, the bandwagon fans alone could account for a few sellouts. Simply put, it’s been worth going to the ballpark to watch this team in action.

The marketing aspect has, thankfully, been less obvious. The organization has made a number of improvements to Fenway Park. Unlike many “improvements” to other parks, these have one goal…to increase the enjoyment of watching a baseball game. They haven’t added swimming pools or batting cages. There are no sausage races or after-game concerts. They simply made Fenway Park a great place to watch a game. Many of the seats now actually face the field. They have added seats, like the Monster Seats, that give unique experiences. They’ve added concessions, and made them easier to access. The restrooms are amazing…as restrooms go. They’ve let the product on the field speak for itself, and actually built everything else around it. What a novel concept.

Naturally, if you’re going to make these improvements, you might as well let everyone know about it. The relationship between the Sox and the community has been great. The traveling World Series trophies were a great way to get the Sox brand out to the people. They’ve joined with a NASCAR team to get even more exposure. NESN has almost become an actual television station, and not filler surrounding the games.

What’s really amazing is that it’s not like the Sox are the only game in town. There are two other sports teams in the area with championships in the past 10 years. When you have to compete with two other champions for top billing, it’s even more impressive to increase a fan base.
Simply put, 500 straight sellouts is an amazing accomplishment. Selling out one April weekday night game is pretty impressive in New England. To do it five years in a row is amazing.

I knew I should have invested in Red Sox blankets.

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