Faced with the possibility of a dank April, dubious prospects, and swaths of empty red and blue seats, the Red Sox are ripping a page from the strategy manuals of down-market teams across Major League Baseball. They are offering free food and reduced-price beer. Yes, at Red Sox games, though only in April.
Kids under 14 will eat free — well, before the third inning, provided they go to specially designated concession stands to pick up their Fenway Frank, Goldfish, and carton of juice. Around the park, buy one hot dog, get a second for free. Hot chocolate will be sold for half-price. And beer, which flows from the Fenway taps like liquid gold and costs almost as much, will be sold for $5 per 12-ounce cup, down from between $7.50-$8.50.
It’s something that’s more likely to be seen in Kansas City, Mo., or St. Petersburg, Fla., or Arlington, Texas, than Boston, places where fans are often drawn by giveaways and Dollar Dog nights.
But with all that went on in 2012 with the Red Sox, it’s clear that the team is ready to admit to fan dissatisfaction and capitulate to fan demand for a friendlier environment around the Olde Towne Team.
It also needs to sell tickets.
“We recognize that the sellout streak is likely going to be coming to an end in early April, and we’re looking for ways to thank our fans for their incredible support and commitment,” Red Sox chief operating officer Sam Kennedy said.
The Sox expect their home opener on April 8 against the Orioles to be a sellout — though there were tickets available as of Monday afternoon — but beyond that, there are serious questions.
Tickets remain for all home dates in April, and the Sox hope that the fan appreciation discounts will help boost ticket sales.
“We’re looking for ways to fill the ballpark, and hopefully this will help,” Kennedy said. “But more importantly, that it be received as a thank you given everything we’ve been through the last nine, 10 years together. We thought it was an appropriate gesture.”
There’s no question that the Sox have a tough slog in April. Not only is the team coming off a 69-93 season, complete with the Bobby Valentine managerial disaster, but it’s hosting 17 games in the span of 21 days in April, only the second time that has happened in the 113-year history of the club and the first time in 23 years.
And the teams visiting Fenway in April aren’t exactly the iron of the American League. While the Sox do have division foes Baltimore and Tampa Bay on the schedule, they also have the A’s, Royals, and woeful Houston Astros.
In another family-friendly move, or one in response to chilly April evenings, 11 of the 17 home games in April will start before 7 p.m.
That includes eight true afternoon games and three games with a first pitch set for 6:35 p.m.
That’s a rare concession for a team so committed to night games that it often had its players grumbling about not playing day games on getaway days.
It’s all part of the team’s push to be more welcoming to fans, as the Sox have encountered trouble selling tickets for the first time in recent memory.
Season-ticket renewals were down about 10 percent over last season, and tickets remain for many games throughout the year.
The Sox have tried to put together a more fan-friendly team as well, emphasizing chemistry after a season in which the team was widely regarded as both unlikable and unwatchable.
Perhaps, after a few $5 beers, the team will be able to change that.