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Many Red Sox season-ticket holders fleeing now

Empty seats may be a familiar sight at Fenway Park this season.

YOON S. BYUN/ GLOBE STAFF/Flle

Empty seats may be a familiar sight at Fenway Park this season.

Seven years ago, Rick Auerbach’s wife put his name on the waiting list for Red Sox season tickets. She waited patiently, never revealing the secret, until the Sox called before the 2012 season. They were in.

Except there was a problem. The secondary ticket market had collapsed. Seats were selling for pennies or going empty. Interest in the team had waned so badly that Auerbach, who lives in Connecticut, couldn’t find anyone to take September Yankees tickets off his hands at even three-quarters of the price.

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So, after one not-so-glorious year as a season ticket-holder, Auerbach is relinquishing the seats.

“We had every intention of sharing the wealth with family and friends, and perhaps donating a handful of tickets,” said Auerbach, who called his State Street Pavilion tickets “the best ever,’’ adding, “What ended up happening is that we couldn’t even sell the tickets for face value.”

As detailed in a Globe story Feb. 1, Red Sox brass acknowledged that season-ticket sales last month were down 10 percent from a year ago. The team is making an effort to woo back season ticket-holders. There have been phone banks, with interns and ticketing staffers and even CEO Larry Lucchino and third baseman Will Middlebrooks placing calls.

Phil Ferraguto

JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF

Phil Ferraguto had Sox season tickets since 1986, but he didn’t renew. “It just seemed like they stopped caring about the fans,’’ he said.

To many, it seemed more like a half-hearted courtesy by the team — not a real effort to persuade these fans to renew their tickets. To Richard Drowne, it seemed as if the Sox simply wanted to confirm he was done so they could move on to the next name on a waiting list that is at 7,500, according to senior vice president of ticketing Ron Bumgarner.

“I wouldn’t describe their call as a ‘reaching out,’ ” Drowne wrote in an e-mail.

“They just didn’t really put up much effort to keep me as a season ticket-holder,” said Matt Hynes, who told the team he would be interested in renewing if he could get better seats.

“I saw the numbers in the Globe, they’re down 10 percent over last year. And I was like, ‘Wow, you’d think they’d put a little more effort into it.’ ”

Both chief operating officer Sam Kennedy and Bumgarner said the team has made every effort to speak with season ticket-holders who have not renewed, though they acknowledged that people who told them early and definitively may not have gotten calls.

“I certainly understand that if people didn’t hear from us, that’s unacceptable,” Kennedy said. “Because it was our goal to try to reach everybody.”

Bumgarner said the Sox are in phase one of their season-ticket process. They are wrapping up contacting the current ticket-holders and will move on to offering upgrades in the next week or so. Only after they have attempted to upgrade people will they then turn to the waiting list.

But, said Phil Ferraguto, a season ticket-holder since 1986, “I never got a call or an e-mail or anything saying, ‘Do you want to rethink this? Are you sure?’ They didn’t even question the fact that I was bailing. In fact, I was even hurt by it, disappointed. We’re ending this marriage and you’re not even going to ask why?

“They dropped the ball in the last couple of years, with the way the team was run. It just seemed like they stopped caring about the fans.”

The Sox are hoping to get back to their season-ticket cap of 22,000 by the time the season starts. If that doesn’t happen, prorated season-ticket packages will be sold after Opening Day, something the team has started doing only in the last couple of years.

“Season ticket-holders are, to be trite, the lifeblood of our organization,” Bumgarner said. “Certainly every business in the world can do a better job of servicing their customers, and we definitely want to do a better job of servicing our customers.

“We do feel like we do a good job and we feel like we provide a good experience for them from the moment that a phone call is made until the moment that they come to the game to the moment that they walk out the door.”

The love affair with the Red Sox reached its zenith in the magical, world championship 2004 season and the following year, when people would do just about anything to make it into Fenway Park. That has ended, with rising ticket prices and falling performances. And so, many people — even longtime season ticket-holders – are getting out.

The reasons vary, from the product on the field to the collapse of the secondary ticket market to the value of the experience. Bumgarner said the team’s internal polling shows 40 percent of those who declined to renew cited the economy, 30 percent said seat location, 15 percent said the team, and the final 15 percent said the value.

All that, though, boils down to the team — a team that frustrated and angered fans, a team that lost its way and its playoff spot and its manager, all in historic fashion.

“September of 2011 really soured me,” said Joe Simeone, who shared a full-season package with three others. “To watch that team fall apart killed me. It killed me. It wasn’t watching them fall apart, it was watching them almost not try.”

In 2012, he sold 18 of his allotment of 20 tickets. He couldn’t bear to watch the team.

But Simeone was lucky in that he was able to sell his unused tickets. Most fans weren’t able to, and that financial hit was a significant reason people are not renewing their packages. They simply can’t afford to eat dozens of tickets worth thousands of dollars.

“It got to the point where you couldn’t give them away,” Ferraguto said. “It was for a lot of years, ‘Oh you guys have season tickets!’ and then it became, ‘Oh you poor [chumps], stuck with season tickets.’”

When Ferraguto first got seats 15 rows behind third base, they were $12 per game. Now they’re $94. And that $15,000 bill at Christmastime doesn’t exactly sit well.

Ferraguto loved being there in the good years, and even in the lean years. “You felt like you were a part of the community,” he said. But after 2011, after the firing of manager Terry Francona, and certainly after 2012, things have changed.

All of the season ticket-holders we spoke to expressed some disappointment at giving up their seats, whether they were among that number since the ’80s or for a single year. Most of them will still go to games, purchase tickets from StubHub or at the box office, and will suffer through inflated prices and little inventory when the team returns to the postseason.

“I was selling tickets for 30 cents on the dollar,” said Alex, who had tickets above Canvas Alley but requested anonymity. “I know that there’s going to be that lack in the ticket market right now where you’re going to be able to get in for a lot less than the poor guy selling the ticket bought them for.”

Last year, that was him. It won’t be anymore.

There is sadness in that decision. Many of the season ticket-holders expected to have them until they died. Or longer. David Lionetti of Aberdeen, N.J., who had tickets since 2004, referred to them as a family heirloom.

That’s no longer the case.

“It was disappointing in that it’s like the end of an era,” said Simeone, 67, who had the tickets since 2004. “I’ve been a baseball fan since I was 3 years old. I have four grandchildren, and I thought often about passing it down, but it just didn’t mean as much to me to do it anymore after ’11 and ’12.”

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.
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