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Team introduces a travel service

For Red Sox fans who can't get tickets to home games, there now is an alternative: book a road trip with the team.

Sox executives are getting into the travel business and planning VIP packages to away games this season that will let fans mingle with players and tour the other team's ballpark. The ''Red Sox Destinations" trips will bring fans to several games across the league, including three Yankees-Red Sox games in New York and two White Sox games in Chicago. The packages, which start at $499 and can top $1,000, include hotel and game tickets, and autograph sessions with a player, a Red Sox jersey, and a baseball used in a game. They do not include airfare.

For the Sox, the idea is a creative solution to Fenway Park's being sold out for every game and is also designed to appeal to the team's national base of fans. The trips piggyback on the success of spring training travel packages that baseball teams have been selling for several years. Now, regular-season road trips are gaining momentum across Major League Baseball. At least four teams -- San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, and the Angels in California -- have offered or plan to offer such packages.

The trips also tap into the notion that fans will pay a premium for exclusive experiences. Music stars including Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones have already proven that selling fans trips to their concerts can be lucrative. The Stones are advertising a vacation package to a concert in Madrid, which comes with an invitation to a preshow party, a welcome reception, and tickets so close to the stage that fans ''feel like part of the band." The price: $2,274, excluding airfare.

By selling travel packages, the Red Sox can appeal to their most loyal fans and make money, too, said Stephen A. Greyser, a Harvard Business School professor who specializes in sports management. ''It's a brand extension," he said.

So far this season, fans have been able to go on one away-game trip -- last month's opener against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas. Andrew Lipsett of Jamaica Plain decided to take the trip after his father, a season ticket-holder at Fenway, received a mailing from the Red Sox.

In Texas, the two stayed at the Wyndham Arlington hotel, where they were greeted with gift packages at the front desk. Sox first baseman J.T. Snow made an appearance at a reception. Then there was the VIP tour of the Rangers' ballpark.

''I've never seen a ballpark tour that takes you into a team's locker room on a game day," said Lipsett, 27. ''We were in the home dugout. We went out onto the warning track."

Other teams that are planning away-game trips contract with Spring Training USA, a third-party travel planner. As the name implies, the California company is known for its popular spring training trips, but recently has been helping teams plan regular-season packages as well. The Giants, for example, want to make it possible for fans to travel to St. Louis to see the Cardinals' new ballpark. In a further spinoff, fans can go with the Giants staff on a postseason vacation to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

''More and more fans enjoy following the team out on the road, and having that opportunity," said Lisa Goularte, the company's director of sales and marketing.

Unlike other baseball teams, the Red Sox are running the trips themselves through a sister company called Fenway Sports Group. This week the Sox are ramping up their advertising of the travel packages, with mass e-mails to Sox fans and ads on their cable network, NESN.

The Sox decided to sell vacations themselves because they figured they could use their connections to other baseball teams and access to players to create trips that cannot be found elsewhere, said Timothy Zue, director of business affairs for Fenway Sports Group.

''We don't have seats at Fenway to sell anymore," Zue said. ''We want to be able to sell seats in other parks."

Zue said the travel packages would ''generate incremental revenue" but more significantly it would ''provide something that people love."

The New York Times Co., owner of The Boston Globe, holds a 17 percent interest in New England Sports Ventures, the parent company that controls the Red Sox, NESN, and Fenway Sports Group.

The Sox's other road trips offered this season include: Philadelphia (May 19-21), Chicago (July 7-9), New York (Sept. 15-17), and Toronto (Sept. 22-24). There is also one ''trip" to Boston (against the Yankees on Aug. 18-20) for Sox fans who live out of state, and for local residents who want to take a Red Sox vacation while staying in town.

But the biggest selling point is perhaps the Sox's access to players. The team is making different players available to fans on each vacation. It's something the Sox have honed with their spring training packages to City of Palms Park, in Fort Myers, Fla. where this year fans chatted with pitcher Tim Wakefield and center fielder Coco Crisp at a barbecue.

Tony Ravosa, who traveled from Connecticut with his wife and three sons, got photos of his family with the two players. He said his boys used to be big fans of Johnny Damon, the former Sox center fielder who now plays for the Yankees, but they forgot about him as soon as they met Crisp.

''He signed autographs and chatted with them," Ravosa said. ''He's an easygoing guy -- a great personality for that clubhouse."

Other VIP touches include a concierge service that helps vacationers find restaurants in the city they're visiting. Vacationers also get a gift bag with a Red Sox program and photo frame. And a photographer is on hand to take pictures, which are mailed home.

The Ravosas already know what they will do with their photo with Crisp and Wakefield. Said Tony: ''It's probably going to be the Ravosa family's Christmas card this year."

Sasha Talcott can be reached at stalcott@globe.com.

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