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Sox at a loss in ratings game

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  July 27, 2010 09:06 AM

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It really should come as no surprise that NESN's Red Sox ratings have plummeted this season. After all, who's going to sit around for three-plus hours with no promise of "Sox Appeal?"

Still, the Sports Business Journal's announcement yesterday that the network's Red Sox ratings have fallen nearly 36 percent can be taken one of a few ways. Maybe the "alternative" hats have moved elsewhere with this franchise in its longest World Series drought since the three-year period between 2004 and 2007. I mean, you can't expect them to sit around waiting forever, you know.

Maybe the team as built was just boring, or maybe the injuries have played some part in the disinterest. After all, it's a little difficult to dedicate 25 hours a week to the likes of Daniel Nava. No disrespect to Daniel Nava, but Jacoby (D) Ellsbury is probably good enough for a 6 share by himself.

But really, I think it's a byproduct of what I've thought for years now: There simply comes a saturation point where people are simply tired of having the team, its sponsors, and shoulder programming forced down their throats. Even with a product as bulletproof as the Red Sox, there has to be some sort of restraint when selling it. I'm not saying the network can be overbearing at times, but I think 16 NESN executives just ran to the dictionary to see what "restraint" means.

Since Sunday I've seen that promo for the new "NESN Daily" around 178 times. I'm happy that it will be a show for "today's sports fan" because frankly I think creating one for yesterday's sports fan would be a huge mistake, but OK, I get it. It hasn't quite reached the levels of "What If?" but you have to realize that the dumber the idea is, the more you have to sell it to your audience.

But I think the problem runs much deeper than any ad blitz for a debate show that we hardly needed (Goody, more "Fact or Fiction"). And I swear the root is this damned sellout streak that the Red Sox are obsessed with.

Last Sunday the team celebrated "consecutive sellout" No. 600 at Fenway Park, and the only thing I could think of is how many tickets went unused across the street at legalized scalper Ace Tickets. The Red Sox have created this false aura of Fenway Park being such an impossible place to get into that many longtime fans have simply stopped caring about needing to go. The amusement park that once was Fenway is now a landing strip for tourists, boldfacers, and losers there simply for the pleasure to participate in an eighth-inning singalong. Notice you don't hear many players these days talk about the Fenway crowd possessing the smartest fans in baseball? That's because the smart ones are the ones forced into the dregs of the right field grandstand, across the street at the bar, and at home on the barcalounger. The ones that used to go to 10, 20, 30 games each year simply can't afford such a luxury anymore. Despite the improvements on and off the field over the past decade, Fenway has become much like the current edition of this team; boring, antiseptic, and hurt beyond recognition.

Twelve years ago, Fenway was a dump. But it was also a place you could walk up to and purchase an affordable last-minute ticket without getting whacked over the head by the Red Sox' official legalized scalper's overhead costs. It was a place that had a football atmosphere almost every single night, an intensity that didn't allow you to be there peripherally until the nightmare that Dr. Charles left us with starts booming through the speakers. Sooner or later, you wake up, turn over, and there's somebody completely different in your bed wearing your spouse's clothing. And while he or she is looking pretty darned good, it's not the person you married.

So, too it is with this franchise, an apathy that has apparently spread from Yawkey Way to the living room, where fans can catch a baseball game somewhere during a three-hour promotional push. Make an out, read a spot. Make an out read a spot. Base hit, read a spot. Jimmy Dunn in a cab taking someone to purchase overpriced sporting equipment. And the least Heidi Watney could have done was offer to share the cab rather than just sitting there with that sheepish grin as she kicks the guy out of the car.

The Red Sox have been overhyped to such a degree over the past half-decade that everybody should have expected the balloon to deflate at some point. The best-case scenario for NESN and the Red Sox is simply that this team isn't cutting it in the standings and the "alternative" hats have lost interest. Because if the 36 percent drop speaks to a much larger problem, the Red Sox have their work cut out. Next thing you know, somebody will tell you to root for the Yankees so the team fixes the problems.

Or, you know, it might just be the injuries.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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