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Red Sox attendance: Selling out

Baseball is a game of statistics. But one line in the box score shouldn’t be taken too seriously: attendance.

As the Globe reported on Friday, the Red Sox have been using some fuzzy math to support the team’s much-ballyhooed Fenway sellout streak, which has ostensibly been chugging along since 2003. The word sellout implies all tickets have been sold. But in fact, for many Sox games, paid attendance falls short of the park’s capacity; the team counts tickets it distributes free to charities and others to close the gap. When the Sox say sellout, what they really mean is that the number of paid and free tickets distributed meets or exceeds the park’s capacity.

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Attendance figures have a PR value, so it’s little surprise that teams in every major league sport massage them. And the impression that it’s hard to get a seat might have a marketing benefit, too, if the perception of scarcity spurs fans and scalpers to scoop up tickets long in advance, before they know if they can really use them.

Indeed, the true measure of fan support would be the number who show up, rain or shine. Until 1993, some baseball teams reported the tally of ticket-holders who actually passed through the turnstiles. Distributing tickets to every seat in the park is a nice accomplishment — but filling it up with fans, every day, would be more impressive.

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