Beards have been shorn, the duck boats have returned to their regular routes, and the World Series trophy is securely in place. Now the Boston Red Sox have turned their attention to financing the quest for the franchise’s fourth world championship of the young century.
Start saving, Sox fans, because the plan includes raising baseball’s most expensive tickets by an average of nearly 5 percent for the 2014 season.
The team said Friday that it will introduce a variable pricing program, increasing the cost of tickets for its 32 games with the highest consumer demand and reducing the price of seats for its 32 least desirable dates.
The average ticket price at Fenway Park will increase 4.8 percent, to $55.94, from $53.38. The only other major league team whose ticket prices averaged more than $45 last season was the New York Yankees, at $51.15, according to Team Marketing Report.
The new policy was driven in part by Sox ownership’s desire to fill seats that often went empty last season. Fenway attendance slipped below 3 million for the first time in six years, to 2.8 million.
“The thinking was that we didn’t want to compromise our ability to generate revenues to invest in our baseball operation and Fenway Park,’’ said Sam Kennedy, the team’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “On the other hand, we wanted to be able to lower ticket prices for April, May, and September games that had less demand.’’
The Red Sox, whose owner, John Henry, is also the owner of the Globe, sold out a record 820 consecutive games at Fenway, with a current seating capacity of 37,493, before the streak ended in the second home game of 2013. The club managed to sell out only 30 of its 80 regular-season games after the home opener, despite winning 97 regular-season games en route to one of the most improbable World Series victories in franchise history.
Under the new plan, there will be five tiers of ticket prices for each seating section. Grandstand seats in Sections 13 to 27, for example, will vary in price from $43 and $55 for lower-tier games to $61 and $73 for higher-tier games. Seats for the 17 middle-tier games will cost the average: $58 — a $3 increase from last season.
Season tickets will increase by 4.8 percent in each section at Fenway, Kennedy said. Season ticket-holders in most seating categories may continue to use the “early pay” option, which provides discounts of about $2 to $5 per ticket per game.
Kennedy said the team conducted an internal study that ranked its home games from 1 to 81 by consumer demand. Tier 1 tickets represent the 16 dates in highest demand, including the home opener, all nine games against the New York Yankees, a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles during Fourth of July weekend, and three games against the Kansas City Royals later in July.
The Royals may seem a surprising Tier 1 selection, but Kennedy indicated that the series ranks among the highest in demand because it is scheduled for a period of peak interest, July 18-20.
The lowest priced tickets, in Tier 5, include weeknight games in April, May, and September against the Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds, Toronto Blue Jays, and Orioles. Those tickets will range in price from $10 for seats in the upper bleachers to $40 for right-field boxes to $115 for premium field boxes.
This marks the first time in three years that the Sox have raised ticket prices. They froze prices after their collapse in September 2011 and their worst finish in 47 years in 2012.
However, the increase is smaller than those that followed the team’s Series wins in 2004 and 2007.
In 2005, the Sox raised prices an average of 7 percent. In 2008, ticket prices increased 9 percent.
“My gut instinct is that I’m not surprised,’’ Audrey Prihoda, secretary of the Bosox Club, a fan group, said of the increase. “That’s the kind of thing a business would do in general if they are doing really well. It’s supply and demand. To me, it’s logical that they would do that.’’
The new pricing system appears modeled in part to allow the Sox to better compete with the secondary ticket market, where tickets typically sell at a premium for the most desirable games and at a discount for the least popular dates.
“What they’re doing is adjusting to reality,’’ said Jim Holzman, who is a major player on the secondary market with his chain of Ace Ticket stores. “Certainly, Yankees tickets are worth more money, and a game on a Tuesday night in April is worth less money. This could be a good system for fans who may not be able to go to a game because the face value is too much. Now they will be able to get a seat at a reduced price for a less-demand game.’’
Holzman said he does not expect the new pricing plan to affect the secondary market.
Kennedy said all 30 big league teams use some form of variable pricing. The new system at Fenway is aimed at helping the Sox recover from 2011 and ’12 — a challenge that should be much easier after the team’s magical run in October.
“Boston fans are very hard-core,’’ Holzman said. “They felt let down by the Red Sox a couple of years ago. It took time for the fan base to heal those wounds. But I think they are in fantastic shape now and should sell very strongly next season.’’