It’s rare that we offer Part 2 to a column, but the response to Thursday’s piece about the lagging attendance at Fenway Park this season necessitated one.
The majority of responders felt the cost of tickets and the overall experience are the biggest reasons Fenway attendance is down just under 3,000 fans per game this year.
Here’s the reason I don’t fully buy that — the Red Sox have always had the highest or among the highest ticket prices in baseball.
They were selling out Fenway at the height of the economic downturn, with teams of lesser ability than this one. Middle-class families indicate they are priced out of seats at Fenway. We don’t dispute that. But that was also the case two and three years ago when ticket prices were about the same as they are now.
The Red Sox, according to chief operating officer Sam Kennedy, have not increased ticket prices for two seasons and haven’t increased them in three of the last five seasons.
Fans dropped off. They dropped off after the September 2011 collapse and they dropped off after a 69-win season in 2012 and many have not come back.
The strange thing about the cost theory, according to Kennedy, is “the seats that aren’t selling are the lower-priced seats — bleachers, grandstand, standing room.” So the big tickets are going fine, but the “cheap” seats aren’t.
It was surprising how many feedback comments Thursday mentioned the ballpark being a problem. It seems the afterglow from the $300 million in improvements doesn’t cut it anymore.
Perhaps as more people travel to more modern ballparks, the less convinced they are that Fenway is a great place to watch a game.
Old complaints have resurfaced, such as the tight fit of the seats for people larger than 6 feet tall. The Red Sox were unable to change that because it would reduce the number of seats in the ballpark. But it’s an issue.
Reader feedback included some responses that were well thought-out. This one — from John Carberry — seemed to capture all of the reasons for lower attendance.
“Getting to the games is more difficult; parking has been disappearing and increasingly expensive,” Carberry writes. “The blue seats are cramped, uncomfortable and difficult to get in and out of — traffic from others is also annoying (I no longer sit in the blue seats even though the group I was with has a great first base location); sight lines even from many red seats are weak; beer and goodies are ridiculously expensive; committing 3½ hours or so is also a big negative; many other options available for entertainment; TV coverage, especially on large, flat-screens in HD, at comfortable home locations is a strong alternative; ticket prices at all levels for 81 home games must hit many fans. The article about AT&T Park in the Globe shows that Fenway is old and may have been pushed beyond its realistic limit (I have been to AT&T, Camden Yards and Nationals Park and feel they represent a good present and better future for fans while Fenway is a good past and a poor future).”
Another theory from reader Brad Howe:
“It’s pretty straightforward: in previous years, people who wanted to see the Sox knew that they had to buy tickets weeks, if not months, in advance, so they made their plans around the ballgame. If you waited for the day of the game, you had to figure on standing room, at best. Now that seats are available for the most part on the day of the game, the particular game has to compete with other, unplanned things that come up in people’s lives, including the weather. It’s no longer The Priority that it is when you have your tickets in hand. If you check, I’ll bet they’re selling about as many day-of-game tickets as they have in past years. It’s the advanced sales that are lagging.”
All of these reasons may be valid, but we ask again, why hasn’t this very good, exciting team been enough to recapture those 3,000 fans per game that represent the decrease in attendance? They’ve seen the product — it’s top-shelf and exciting, with late-game heroics.
This Sox team has resemblances to the 2004 team. You would think the fan base would be sold again.
Kennedy said there should be capacity or near-capacity crowds on Friday and the holiday weekend. And one would think the capacity crowds would return in what should be an amazing September with head-to-head competition against divisional rivals.
Ushers I’ve spoken to are still amazed at the number of people who leave in the seventh inning, regardless of whether the team is ahead or behind. Maybe it is the long games, but that’s what makes this team good — they see a lot of pitches and grind out at-bats.
People are still mad about Terry Francona being let go. They are mad that Bobby Valentine was ever hired. Readers are already anticipating being upset about Jacoby Ellsbury not being re-signed and already lambasting Red Sox owners for not keeping him.
And there’s a completely different view from the people who do show up.
“There’s nothing I would rather spend $50 on than to watch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park,” said Deb Clancy of Marshfield. “Especially this team. It’s very exciting. They’re fun. They care about each other.”
On Thursday night, the right-field boxes and grandstand were relatively barren. There was a smattering of empty seats in the bleachers and left-field grandstand. Attendance was 33,300.
On a late August night against the Baltimore Orioles, the park should be electric. The crowd should be overflowing.
Many responders pointed out they’d rather watch TV and listen to the great Don Orsillo and Dennis Eckersley call the game on NESN, whose ratings are up 15 percent from last season.
Writes Steve Brickley of Saugus: “The advent of fabulous HD televisions and ice cold beer that will not cost you a fortune, parking is free and there’s hardly ever a wait for the bathroom. Why again would I leave my fortress to rub elbows, knees and various other parts with your Sec. 4 neighbors while facing the bullpens in right center?”
Cost and economics is somewhere in the answer. But it’s not the entire reason one of the most embraceable Red Sox teams in recent memory has played in front of a full ballpark only 20 times this season.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.