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Red Sox sellout streak seen ending soon?as online ticket prices are dropping

Bloomberg News

April 01. 2013 7:55PM
Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester delivers a pitch during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Monday. (ANTHONY GRUPPUSO/USA TODAY SPORTS)

NEW YORK - The Boston Red Sox open their 2013 season eager to forget the past two and preparing for the end of their record home sellout streak.

The 793-game streak at Fenway Park, which has a capacity of about 37,500, began on May 15, 2003, making it the longest in Major League Baseball history. The Cleveland Indians held the second-best mark of 455 straight from 1995-2001.

Coming off a 69-93 season - their worst since 1965 - and two years after blowing a nine-game wild-card lead in September 2011, the Red Sox last week announced plans to offer two-for-one hot dogs and discounted beer for adults and free food for children under 15 throughout April, when cold New England weather often keeps fans away.

They've known since the beginning of the year that the sellout streak probably would end early this season, according to Sam Kennedy, the team's chief operating officer.

"While you never know, the streak of sellouts will likely come to an end," Kennedy said. "It will rest in peace."

After opening the regular season Monday with a three-game series at the New York Yankees, Boston visits the Toronto Blue Jays before hosting the Baltimore Orioles in its April 8 home opener.

"We'll see how it goes for the first 17 games and then maybe continue for the rest of the year if it goes well," Kennedy said of the concessions offer. "We've had a very difficult offseason given the fact that we had a horrendous 2012 and an epic collapse in 2011, so this April promotion was designed as a gesture of thanks as opposed to an enticement to win the fans back."

Fenway Park has been a hard to come by ticket for more than a decade, and the team has surpassed three million in attendance each of the last five seasons.

An indication of the club's difficulty selling tickets can be seen on the secondary market, where average prices for 2013 are down almost $40 from last year, according to ticket- aggregator TiqIQ.

Resale ticket prices for the Red Sox opener have become less expensive in each of the past three seasons, and the trend continues this year. The average ticket purchased on the secondary market cost $172 in 2010, $155 in 2011, $110 in 2012 and $74 this year as of March 27, according to TiqIQ.

Fans will "wait for the secondary market to correct itself and they'll buy tickets depending on how the team does," said Chris Matcovich, a spokesman for TiqIQ.

William Sutton, a sports-marketing consultant to the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates, said he views the streak's demise as a "good thing" that, in the long run, will help strengthen Boston's fan base.

"People who haven't gone to Red Sox games or didn't think they could go are going to say, 'Hey, we can go,"' Sutton, the founding director of the University of South Florida's sport and entertainment masters of business administration program, said in a telephone interview. "There's going to be a little bit of pain, but you're also going to extend your base a little bit so you get some more people in the funnel."

While on-field performance and weather heavily influence attendance, other pressures include a slowly recovering economy and competition for fans' money from other successful New England sports teams, Kennedy said.

The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, helping to sell tickets. The 2004 championship was the team's first since 1918 and ended what some fans called the "Curse of the Bambino," a title drought that was punishment for selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees before the 1920 season.

Optimal pricing can be complicated. Several teams use variable pricing to sell individual-game tickets, offering some at a regular price, some at a discount and others at a premium depending on the opponent. Clubs such as the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants use a dynamic-pricing model, applying real-time sales data and other factors to adjust prices by the minute.

The Red Sox have - so far - not adopted variable or dynamic pricing, instead applying what Kennedy called the "Robin Hood theory" to ticketing, charging more for high-end seats while slowing the growth of lower-end seat prices in the grandstands and bleachers.

"The balance has worked very, very well for us," Kennedy said.

Still, for a franchise known for its use of statistical analysis on the field, the Red Sox's front office also is scrutinizing data to sell seats and the streak's probable end will keep the club considering other strategies, Kennedy said.

"It makes you explore all the options, and I think that our job is trying to estimate the market-clearing price, the true value for a ticket for every game," he said. "That's a tricky exercise."