The announcement would always come around the seventh inning, when a Red Sox publicist would tell the media in attendance that Fenway Park was again sold out, a streak that stands at 793 games and dates to May 15, 2003.
But in the wake of the joyless 2012 season, that streak is in jeopardy.
Season-ticket renewals are down 10 percent from this time last year. Although those coveted tickets will eventually go to fans on the waiting list, the renewal lapse is seen as a signal that even hardcore fans are cooling in their enthusiasm. And that can translate into a drop in overall ticket sales — and empty seats in the stands.
“It will come as no surprise if, on the heels of a 69-win season, our fans don’t sell out the park some nights this year,” said Sam Kennedy, the team’s chief operating officer. “We know it takes time to reconnect, to restore faith, and to believe again. We are passionate fans, too. We understand.”
Kennedy also said that although there are no tallies yet on single-ticket sales, he expects those to be down, too.
Uncertainty about the streak began last season. On some nights the empty seats around the venerable park were there for everyone to see, even as another sellout was announced.
Yet Red Sox management’s definition of a sellout — in which they count the total number of tickets distributed, including 800 complimentary tickets to each game, plus standing-room tickets — allowed the team to keep the streak alive.
Among the four professional sports in North America, the streak is second only to the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers’mark of 814 games from 1977 to ’95. The Sox broke the Cleveland Indians’ record for Major League Baseball in 2008. The Indians sold out 455 straight from 1995-2001.
So what’s in store for the struggling Sox this season? The team will not be helped in their early ticket sales by fan excitement over a superstar’s joining the team. General manager Ben Cherington took a different approach in player acquisition this offseason, shying away from the high-profile players the team has signed in the recent past in favor of lunchpail types such as Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, and David Ross.
Cherington has added complementary pieces around second baseman Dustin Pedroia, and will look to the future with promising prospects in the farm system, such as outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
Given that approach, Kennedy said, the team expects to take a hit at the box office.
“It’s no surprise that season-ticket renewals are lagging behind somewhat so far from 2012,” Kennedy said. “We hope that those who are on the fence will renew when they see a new team with new personalities take the field.”
According to an industry source familiar with tickets sales for big-market franchises, the news could be worse.
“Actually, being 10 percent down after a year they had last year isn’t that bad,” the source said. “I think only in Boston could you see that minimal of a dropoff. When people are angry about their sports teams, they usually send them a message. This is a message, but not exactly one they’re shouting from the rooftops.”
The Red Sox are selling good character and a new manager in John Farrell, their former pitching coach, whom they have charged with righting the ship and reversing the fortunes of the pitching staff. They are banking on calmness after the tumultuous Bobby Valentine era and a desire by veterans such as Pedroia, David Ortiz, and Jacoby Ellsbury to prove last year was an aberration.
“The silver lining for some fans is that some of those who have been on the waiting list for many years may finally get their chance this year,’’ Kennedy said. “I anticipate our season-ticket base will be roughly consistent with what it has been in years past, albeit with some new buyers from the waiting list.” The Red Sox have about 20,000 season ticket holders.
Said Kennedy, “We will certainly know more in the coming weeks.”