Red Sox foresee an end to sellout streak
FORT MYERS, Fla. — There is one final indignity left for the Red Sox before they can truly start over. And even combative team president/CEO Larry Lucchino acknowledges that it’s inevitable.
The team’s sellout streak at Fenway Park will end this season, perhaps as early as the second game.
“It’s going to rest in peace, I think, sometime in April, I suspect,” Lucchino said Thursday. “That’s not a terrible thing. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment.”
The Red Sox have listed 793 consecutive games as sellouts, a record for Major League Baseball. The team defines a sellout based on the number of tickets distributed, although in recent years empty seats have been plentiful at the park and available for sale into the middle innings.
According to Lucchino, the Red Sox have sold 99.6 percent of the available seating capacity over the last 11 years.
“Our comp tickets are among the lowest in all of baseball,” he said. “We talk about having more people in the ballpark than there are seats for them. That’s been the operating definition.”
The second home game is April 10 against Baltimore. That could be when the streak ends.
“Historically, for all of baseball, the second game of the season has been the toughest game to sell tickets for,” Lucchino said. “It could be as early as that.
“I have no doubt that Opening Day will be a sellout. Of course, April weather doesn’t help a lot. We have a lot of home games in April. It could be as early as the second [game], but I suspect it will be sometime in the first or second week.”
The Sox host the woebegone Houston Astros for four games starting April 25. If the streak survives that long, that series could kill it.
The biggest question is to what degree flagging tickets sales will affect the team’s bottom line.
“Ticket sales are more challenging this year than they have been since the very first year that we were here, maybe even including the first year,” Lucchino said.
“There may be a reduction in ticket revenue. I don’t think that’s going to affect us if we have a winning team, if we have the kind of successful team we think we’ll have. I think people will jump back into the ballpark, albeit at a later time in the season than they have historically.
“I don’t want to predict too much of a downturn yet. But I do know that it is a possibility.”
Lucchino has heard negative comments from fans based on the team losing an embarrassing 93 games last season.
“We sense the frustration fans feel,” he said. “But we’re also getting some positive comments from people, particularly about John Farrell and the new coaching staff, particularly from people who are longtime loyalists.
“There may have been some less avid fans who have fallen off the bandwagon in recent years. To them we have something to prove. Maybe to everybody we have something to prove.”
During a 31-minute session with reporters, Lucchino was his feisty self, chiding the media for perceived slights.
He also claimed not to have read the new book by former Red Sox manager Terry Francona and Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy. “Francona: The Red Sox Years” has several unflattering references to Lucchino and his style of management.
“I know some people find that hard to believe,” said Lucchino. “But it seems logical to me. I want to look forward, not back. I’m afraid if I do read it, I will find in it inaccuracies and things that will cause me to react to it in a way that would divert me and cause some kind of sideshow instead of dealing with the here and now.
“It seems perfectly logical to me not to read it. I don’t feel any great compulsion to. I may get around to it sooner or later.”
Lucchino also gave a terse “no comment” to two questions posed by Shaughnessy. He then answered the exact same questions posed by other reporters.
The Red Sox have their first full-squad workout Friday. That is traditionally when owner John Henry, team chairman Tom Werner, and Lucchino address the team. But that could change this time.
Lucchino said they are more likely to speak to players on an individual basis and may only introduce themselves before the meeting and speak briefly.
“The message to be sent and stated tomorrow will be done by our new manager, John Farrell,” Lucchino said.
Lucchino, who pushed for the ill-fated hiring of Bobby Valentine before the 2012 season, lauded Farrell.
“I like a lot of things about him,” Lucchino said. “He commands respect. He also has a skill set that’s particularly important to the success of this team, his pitching expertise. He is an honest guy. I think he’ll be an outstanding Red Sox manager.”
The Red Sox have a payroll of close to $180 million. But Lucchino delighted in portraying the team as overachievers.
“We’re just scrappy underdogs trying to win for our franchise and our fans,” he said.
Lucchino also forcefully defended team executives, saying all revenue produced is funneled back into the team.
“We are concerned about generating revenue, make no mistake about that,” he said. “We’re not embarrassed or apologetic about that.
“We’re not the largest market in baseball. As far as a television market, we’re 22d in all of baseball as far as TV homes. But we overproduce and generate revenue beyond that television market size.”
Boston is the seventh-largest Nielsen television market in the nation. But MLB defines markets based on a larger geographical area and population. Lucchino’s assertion is correct, a spokesman said.
The Red Sox signed seven free agents during the offseason, none to contracts longer than three years. That is an intentional shift in philosophy, but not one that is sacrosanct.
“We’ll look for deals that make sense. We’ll have exceptions, too,” Lucchino said. “One of the lessons we learned in recent years is that we’d rather pay a little more on a shorter-term deal than have a multiyear contract that goes out five, six, seven, eight years.
“We appreciate the flexibility. We think it’s better for the inevitable kind of reloading that a club has to do periodically.”