Some time back I predicted that the Boston Red Sox sellout streak of nearly 10 years duration would come to an end soon after opening day, which of course was going to sell out. Then I promptly forgot that I said it.
Sure enough, though, it came to pass Wednesday night. After selling out every home regular-season game, plus playoffs, since May, 15, 2003, there were tickets to be had for the Fenway Park 8-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. You didn’t have to go through Ticketmaster or a scalper to get in the door, all you had to do was walk up with money in hand moments before the first pitch.
The streak ended at 794 regular-season games and 820 in all. The streak out-lasted the best of every other Major League team in history and every other major professional sports franchise in the United States. The old Major League record for sellouts was 455 set by the Cleveland Indians–the Red Sox passed that in 2008.The professional sports franchise record was 814 set by the Portland Trailblazers and the Red Sox just made it there.
One reason I forgot I said that the streak would end was because it was a curious time for it to end. The Red Sox were lousy in 2012, finishing with just 69 victories and in last place in the American League East Division and they still sold out every game. Apparently, though, on occasion during those bad old days when the attendance was announced there were some skeptics.
However, a sellout is defined by the fact that all of the tickets are sold, not by how many people actually come to the park. That wasn’t the issue Wednesday. A Fenway Park sellout is classified as 37,493 fans now. That represents an expansion of about 4,000 seats over the last decade due to ballpark renovation and the efforts of the owners to shoehorn people into Fenway in any way possible.
It wasn’t a close call Wednesday. The sales didn’t miss by a dozen or 100. Ticket sales came up several thousand short of a sellout. Attendance was announced as 30,862. You, your family, all of your friends and everyone in your neighborhood could have walked up and bought tix at the last minute.
The irony of the timing of the failure-to-sell-out is that Boston management completely revamped the team in the off-season, ditched players it believed were underachievers, rebuilt the club, brought in a new manager and went shopping for steady, productive players who had no questions about their character and were all likely to help, and added some youth from the farm system. The team got off to a pretty good start, too.
For those reasons it seems a little odd that the sellout streak would end at this moment. Under the current ownership group the Red Sox have been right up there with the biggest spenders in baseball. Millions upon millions of dollars have been spent to maintain the team as a contender. After 86 years of coming up short the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and did so again in 2007. One thing that has enabled the team to keep building upon those successes has been the revenue stream from constant Fenway sellouts.
It would be greater irony now if diminished ticket sales made it more difficult for management to afford to compete with the best. On the other hand, the recent history of sellouts tells management that if it pays for a winner the fans will come. In this case if the Red Sox heat up, show signs of capturing the division title, the fans will be back in force, though that literally did not happen overnight. One day later the Sox-Baltimore only drew 27,000-plus. That gave Boston a new streak of two games in a row without a sellout.
The Red Sox may never produce anything like a 10-year sellout streak again. That is probably a once-in-a-lifetime deal.