When fans show up for the Red Sox home opener tomorrow, they wont notice much different about Fenway Park. Unless, that is, theyre sitting in one of its luxury suites.
During the off-season, 23 of the parks 40 suites were revamped in a modern luxury condo motif. Cherrywood floors replaced tiles, new kitchens with granite countertops, food warmers, and stainless-steel appliances were installed, $12,000 audio-visual systems with three high-definition plasma TV sets and surround sound were added, along with computers with high-speed Internet access.
It was the first phase of the suites first renovation since they were added in 1982. Along with the new amenities came hefty new prices for suite owners, who are paying on average $65,000 more per year, or $283,000, to watch the games in the lap of luxury.
The suite upgrades shed more light on the teams strategy of wringing more revenue out of sold-out Fenway Park while holding the line on ticket prices for average Joes. By making the suites more posh, the Sox can justify charging more to the companies that lease them who may be better able to absorb a price hike at the ballpark than the average fan.
If theres a market for high-end and you can accommodate that with upgrades to the premium seating and it allows you to keep the $12 seat $12, you do that, said Sam Kennedy, the Red Soxs senior vice president of sales and marketing.
The Sox are upgrading suites as some teams are removing them. The Seattle Mariners, the Soxs home opener opponent, tore out eight suites at their Safeco Field this winter. The Milwaukee Brewers removed five, and the Chicago White Sox removed 10 suites so they could relocate their writers press box and create a new premium seating area that holds more people and costs less than a suite.
Specialists said teams are adjusting the number of suites following a decade-long stadium building boom. Because suite leases were a big chunk of the revenue teams pledged to secure bonds to fund their expensive new parks, many simply added as many suites as they could to the projects. Now, a correction of sorts is taking place in some markets, where the teams have discovered that they overbuilt.
The problem was sports is a local business and each market was different. Some of the markets found out they built too many suites, others found out they built not enough, said Bill Dorsey, executive director of the Association of Luxury Suite Directors in Cincinnati.
The White Sox found out they built far too many suites when their US Cellular Field debuted in 1991 with 102 luxury suites. Since that park opened, other Chicago sports teams have added more than 400 suites to their facilities, creating an enormous supply in a town that has two Major League Baseball teams, as well as professional basketball, football, and hockey clubs.
The right number for us would be somewhere in the 60 to 70 range, and we still have 90, suites, said Brooks Boyer, the White Soxs vice president and chief marketing officer. Of those, only about 50 are fully leased, he said. For the others, the team has turned to selling partial-season leases or even single-game packages where fans can get a suite for as little as $3,500.
By comparison, the average Fenway Park suite is being leased at about $283,000 per season with a 10-year minimum, Kennedy said. Thats an increase from the $218,000 per-year average cost of a suite last year, which came with only a three-year commitment.
The Red Sox are a different animal. If the White Sox were the only baseball team in town and we only had 40 suites, wed be dying for more premium seating, Boyer said.
There is a waiting list of about 15 companies who want suites at Fenway Park, a list that got no shorter even after the Red Sox hiked the price of their suites. Only one suite owner, the Boston Herald, chose not to renew under the new terms, Kennedy said. A deal has yet to be signed for that suite, Kennedy said.
Given the current state of economic affairs for newspapers across this country, who are being forced to tighten their belts, it seemed like a prudent business decision. Its got nothing at all to do with our love for the Red Sox, said Herald spokesman George Regan.
Among companies that chose to keep their suites, Bank of Americas rationale was typical. The companys suite is full during every Sox home game, said spokesman Joseph L. Goode, and besides, without a suite, our opportunity to entertain at Fenway is fairly minimal because Fenway Park is sold out every game of the year.
Keith Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.