FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox chief executive officer Larry Lucchino predicted today that the team’s sellout streak could end sometime in April, perhaps as early as the second game.
“It’s going to rest in peace, I think, sometime in April I suspect,” Lucchino said. “That’s not a terrible thing. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment.”
The second home game is April 10 against Baltimore. That could be when the streak ends.
“Historically for all of baseball, the second game of the season has been the toughest game to sell tickets for,” Lucchino said. “It could be as early as that. I have no doubt that Opening Day will be a sellout. Of course April weather doesn’t help a lot. We have a lot of home games in April. It could be as early as the second [game] but I suspect it will be some time in the first or second week.”
The Red Sox have sold out a Major League Baseball record 793 consecutive games dating back to Feb. 15, 2003. The team has a loose definition of a sellout, basing it on tickets distributed.
Lucchino claimed the Red Sox have sold 99.6 percent of the available seating capacity over the last 11 years.
“Our comp tickets are among the lowest in all of baseball,” he said. “We talk about having more people in the ballpark than there are seats for them. That’s been the operating definition.”
Could empty seats affect the team’s bottom line?
“Ticket sales are more challenging this year then they’ve have been since the very first year that we were here, maybe even including the first year,” Lucchino said. “There may be a reduction in ticket revenue. I don’t think that’s going to affect us if we have a winning team, if we have the kind of successful team we think we’ll have. I think people will jump back into the ballpark, albeit at a later time in the season than they have historically.
“I don’t want to predict too much of a downturn yet. But I do know that it is a possibility. But I still think we will generate [revenue] from a lot of other sources, some of which are occasionally decried by members of the media, which will still be substantial.”
Lucchino said he has heard negative comments from fans based on the team finishing in last place in 2012.
“We sense the frustration fans feel,” he said. “But we’re also getting some positive comments from people, particularly about John Farrell and the new coaching staff. Particularly from people who are long-time loyalists. There may have been some less avid fans who have fallen off the bandwagon in recent years. To them we have something to prove. Maybe to everybody we have something to prove.”
Lucchino said the Red Sox won’t lack for fans at Fenway.
“We’re still going to fill this ballpark with lots of people a lot of times,” he said. “Having set the record will always be a source of pride for the franchise and our fans.”
The Red Sox have a payroll of close to $180 million. But Lucchino took delight in portraying the team as underdogs.
“We’re going to be a competitive team. If I had to name the favorite, I would put the target on my friend Paul Beeston at Toronto and let him see how he likes being the preseason favorite. I reminded him recently there are no trophies for winning the offseason,” he said.
“If he want to go into the season feeling that he is the prohibitive favorite, that’s great. We’re just scrappy underdogs trying to win for our franchise and our fans.”
Lucchino said he agreed with the comments of owner John Henry on Monday that the team had gotten away from its “core philsophy” of building the roster. The Red Sox, he said, do not grind out at-bats as well as they once did.
“We have fallen considerably,” he said. “We used to have incentives in contracts related to on-base percentage to show you how important we thought that it was. I think there was a kind of deviation from that somewhere along the way.”
The Red Sox have their first full-squad workout on Friday. That is traditionally when Henry, team chairman Tom Werner and Lucchino all address the team. But that could change this season.
Lucchino said he and the owners are more likely to speak to players on an individual basis and may only introduce themselves before the meeting and speak briefly.
“The message to be sent and stated tomorrow will be done by our new manager, John Farrell,” Lucchino said. “It’s the first meeting of all 59 players who are here in camp and it’s his meeting.”
Lucchino, who pushed for the hiring of Bobby Valentine before the 2012 season, lauded Farrell.
“I like a lot of about him,” Lucchino said. “He commands respect. He also has a skill set that’s particularly important to the success of this team, his pitching expertise. He is an honest guy. I think he’ll be an outstanding Red Sox manager.”
Lucchino claimed he has not read the new book by former Red Sox manager Terry Francona and Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy. “Francona, the Red Sox Years” has several unflattering references to Lucchino and his style of management.
“I haven’t [read the book]. I know some people find that hard to believe. But it seems logical to me. I want to look forward, not back,” he said. “I’m afraid if I do read it, I will find in it inaccuracies and things that will cause me to react to it in a way that would divert me and cause some kind of sideshow instead of dealing with the here and now. It seems perfectly logical to me not to read it. I don’t feel any great compulsion to. I may get around to it sooner or later.”
However Lucchino gave a terse “no comment” to two questions posed by Shaughnessy during his 31-minute press conference. He then answered the exact same questions posed by other reporters/
Lucchino also touched on some other topics:
On team revenues: “We are concerned about generating revenue, make no mistake about that. We’re not embarrassed or apologetic about that. But the revenue goes into the ball club. It goes into the payroll. It goes into the amateur signing bonuses. It goes into the machinery of the club. It doesn’t go out into private bank accounts. We’re not the largest market in baseball. As far as a television market, we’re 22nd in all of baseball as far as TV homes. But we overproduce and generate revenue beyond that television market size and we use that money to go into the franchise.”
(Boston is the seventh largest television market in the county according to the most recent Nielsen Designated Market Area rankings. Lucchino is referring to the size of individual teams markets as defined by MLB. That takes population over a larger geographical area into account.)
On having three managers in three seasons: “We like stability. We’ve had a lot of stability in the time that we’ve been here. You can compare it to some of the least stable and more volatile franchises in recent years and we’re nowhere near that degree of instability.”
On retaining Jacoby Ellsbury: “Would we like to have him here? Yes. Do I think that there will be some negotiations that will take place during the course of the year, perhaps sooner? Possibly. We wouldn’t rule anything out. We’d really very much like to have him here, like to have him be part of a core Red Sox team. Like Ben Cherington says, he’s part of the next great Red Sox team. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to have too much of a discussion about the negotiation process now.”
On the clubhouse chemistry: “I think there’s going to be a new, more positive energy in the clubhouse. There are guys who have a reputation for being great teammates and I think they’re going to help change the culture. The manager and the new coaching staff, they have come together beautifully from what I’ve heard.”
On whether the Red Sox will pursue high-end free agents: “We certainly can shop there. We’ll always shop there. The question is how active will we be in that market. We’ll look for deals that make sense. We’ll have exceptions, too. One of the lessons we learned in recent years is that we’d rather pay a little more on a shorter-term deal than have a multi-year contract that goes out five, six, seven, eight years. We appreciate the flexibility. We think it’s better for the inevitable kind of reloading that a club has to do periodically.”
On regrets from the offseason: “I was always a big Cody Ross fan. To be honest, at one point we were joking at a meeting in baseball [operations] that I should wear a Cody Ross jersey to the next meeting because I was so eager to see us reach out to him. I do have a great fondness for him and respect for him. I wish him great success and I’m surprised that an old general manager that I worked with, Kevin Towers, plucked him and he’s playing out there [for Arizona]. But we’ve done well. That’s not to say I’m not excited about Jonny Gomes and the other outfield prospects that we have here. I think our fans are going to fall in love with Jonny Gomes.”