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Pandemic’s massive effect on Red Sox' wallet leaves brass looking for answers

Two years ago, CEO Sam Kennedy (left) and the Red Sox were on top of the world, now they are a last-place team that lost an estimated $100 million this year.
Two years ago, CEO Sam Kennedy (left) and the Red Sox were on top of the world, now they are a last-place team that lost an estimated $100 million this year.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Year 1 of the pandemic cratered the last-place Red Sox' bottom line, inflicting more than $100 million in losses.

Looking ahead to this offseason and next season on Tuesday, Sam Kennedy wished he could say that the bleeding will stop and that the team will be able to spend what it needs to field a competitive team in 2021.

He couldn’t.

The club’s president and CEO also could not say for certain that Fenway Park will be able to host fans in any capacity next season. He also couldn’t guarantee any potential ticket-buying fans that they would not face a ticket price increase.

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As annual end-of-season postmortems go, the Fenway Park Zoom session featuring Kennedy, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, and GM Brian O’Halloran felt particularly apocalyptic.

“Will [the losses] have an impact on our budget? Yes, of course it will because of the devastating impact it’s had on our revenues this year,” said Kennedy. “And obviously next year is uncertain. That said, I don’t know what the outlook for 2021 looks like yet with respect to the virus and as that becomes clearer we’ll be able to act in real time and make decisions.”

Kennedy said John Henry, the club’s principal owner (and owner of the Globe), and chairman Tom Werner “will take a long-term view with respect to the COVID era.”

Kennedy offered no specifics on payroll spending for a club that managed to re-set its luxury-tax status by shedding salaries in a season that thudded to an end.

Red Sox President Sam Kennedy could not say for certain that Fenway Park will be able to host fans in any capacity next season.
Red Sox President Sam Kennedy could not say for certain that Fenway Park will be able to host fans in any capacity next season.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The uncertainty of whether fans will be allowed back into ballparks at even reduced capacity is the No. 1 concern of the Red Sox and the 29 other teams at the moment. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, commissioner Rob Manfred said MLB will lose approximately $3 billion this year, a figure that will be offset by some $120 million in increased TV revenues from expanded playoffs.

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Three billion dollars is better than the nearly $4 billion Manfred and the owners estimated the industry could lose while it was trying to hammer out a return-to-baseball plan with the players' union this summer.

But for an industry that derives approximately 40 percent of its revenues from ticket sales, concessions, and parking, to not have fans back in the stands over a 162-game season would be, said Manfred, “economically devastating.”

Sunny by disposition, Kennedy could muster only hope, not optimism, when it comes to predicting if Fenway Park will be able to open its gates again next season.

“We’ve been studying a vaccine, therapeutics, and a realistic timetable — it’s really tough,” said Kennedy. "It seems like this virus is going to be around for a while. Hopefully advances will come soon.

“We will be prepared, I can tell you that, to welcome fans back to Fenway, whether it is in a socially distanced environment, which we can do, reduce capacity. Or in a 50 percent capacity or full capacity, on the optimistic side.”

If Massachusetts allowed it, Kennedy said the club had a plan ready for September for close to 7,000 fans, or just a bit more than 18 percent capacity, to view games at the ballpark.

That plan remains ready to be implemented, said Kennedy, who said the Red Sox are paying close attention to how the Patriots are preparing for the chance to open Gillette Stadium at reduced capacity later this NFL season.

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Kennedy was not prepared to say if the ball club would raise ticket prices, a tell that an increase is at least under consideration to help the flow of red ink on the club’s books.

“It’s just a question of how much money are you going to lose from a business perspective in 2020?” said Kennedy. “Hopefully we’ll be able to have fans back in the stands next year or some portion of our fans to start — we’ll see how that goes. There’s a long-term view. We know we’re going to withstand operating losses and we’re prepared for that, planning for that.

"I think you’ll see the Red Sox continue to invest in our baseball operation the way we have the last 20 years.”


Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB.