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Concerns about streak a tough sell

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 5, 2010

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When the paid attendance at Fenway Park was announced at 37,404 Monday night, did the Red Sox extend their sellout streak by the skin of their teeth?

The readjusted seating capacity happens to be 37,404. Four times this season the paid attendance has been less than capacity.

The Sox’ definition of a sellout is when paid and complimentary tickets are equal to (or greater than) the capacity. So the Sox could announce a paid attendance that is less than capacity and still consider it a sellout.

The Sox do not seem to believe they are sweating out the streak, which is at 565 after last night; they said they had “a significant number’’ of complimentary ticket-holders in the park Monday to make the sellout comfortable. They did not disclose what that “comp’’ number was. They also do not count standing room into capacity.

The Sox announced yesterday they had eclipsed 2.8 million ticket sales for the 2010 season, a sign that the sales should remain in lockstep with past results. It is the second-earliest they’ve eclipsed the 2.8 million mark, the earliest coming on April 30, 2008.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Sox were down 3,524 from the first 14 dates of last season. That comes to 252 fewer fans per game. The future sales should make up for that discrepancy.

There have been whispers that the sellout streak could end this season. Not so fast.

Sox president Larry Lucchino said there’s still some danger over the next few days (though the Yankees are here through the weekend), but there’s always that risk in April and early May. The ticket office, however, is indicat ing that the Sox are “in great shape’’ for the remainder of the homestand, which includes a weekday game next Wednesday vs. Toronto.

“After the next couple of days, then the next risk would come in September, but that’s only if the team is not playing well or out of it,’’ Lucchino said.

The sellout streak is a great source of pride for the organization. It began May 15, 2003, and survived the non-playoff season of 2006. There have been close calls, as the Sox make a few hundred tickets available the day of the game, and that varies according to what was returned by Sox players and the opposing team. Those tickets seem to get gobbled up quickly.

“It’s important,’’ wrote Sox owner John Henry in an e-mail about the streak, “but it’s not ending soon.’’

One concern about the streak ending this year was based on the Sox perhaps becoming boring. With no colorful impact player like Manny Ramirez, the loss of home run hitter Jason Bay, and a declining David Ortiz, some felt fans would quickly grow tired of seeing, well, a vanilla team. The Sox, in fact, sold themselves as a “run-prevention’’ team, and sometimes pitching and defense don’t excite the masses. Lots of offense — as in Monday night’s 17-8 win — does.

There was also the economy.

The Sox were at the high-water mark in baseball with ticket prices.

Then, of course, they got off to a poor start.

After the low point — a three-game sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards — a Boston.com poll asked readers whether they fell into one of two categories. One was those who felt the Sox would not recover and would finish out of the playoffs, and the other was those who felt there was time to turn things around. About 52 percent thought this would be a lost season.

And all of this comes as the Celtics and Bruins are in the playoffs.

We come to one conclusion here: While times are challenging for the Sox, they are not dire.

April attendance concerns are far more prevalent in other parts of the country. The Sox may be off a few hundred per game in the early going, but it doesn’t sound as if they’re going to be down when August comes. Projections are always more favorable for summer when the kids are out of school.

So the concern about the longest current sellout streak in American professional sports seems to be a false alarm.

Unless, of course, the Sox stumble when the kids go back to school.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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