The eye-opening report by Northeastern University's Initiative for Investigative Reporting published recently on the front page of the Boston Globe details how the steely-eyed management of the Boston Red Sox, taking advantage of an apparently compliant and certainly naïve Boston City Hall, lined its own pockets with sums totaling an estimated $45 million over the past nine years in a deal that netted the city a mere $1.67 million.
In these tough times, when municipal services are being cut and the prospects for new revenues are slim, nobody is going to scoff at a million-plus extra dollars. But once you realize that the Red Sox share of the deal is four times better than the city's cut, you have to ask yourself this: why didn't local officials bargain for more advantageous terms — especially when the deal could proceed only with City Hall's approval?
The agreement in question has allowed the Red Sox to close Yawkey Way — a public street that abuts Fenway Park — before, during, and after games. This forces local residents and neighboring workers to disrupt their normal walking patterns and seek circuitous alternative routes. It also put the screws to the local pushcart vendors who were once a vital part of the Fenway experience. And it put the Sox in direct competition with local bars and restaurants that in less-glorious and less-profitable days serviced fans with food and drink.
This under-scrutinized deal also allowed the Sox to exploit the Lansdowne Street air rights and build expensive seating and standing-room spots for another 369 additional fans. This was clearly a welcome improvement. Too bad the city didn't get a fair price.
For almost 25 years the Boston Phoenix has made its home in the shadow of Fenway Park, at 126 Brookline Avenue. And while the current owners of the Red Sox are certainly more communicative and responsible neighbors, they still play hardball and put their own bottom line ahead of the greater public good. That, of course, is what most for-profit companies do — even ones as image-conscious as the Sox.
At the time of the Yawkey Way deal, the Phoenix said it stunk; that it was predicated upon a misuse of the city's power of eminent domain; and that it unfairly benefited the Red Sox at the expense of most other concerned parties.
Thanks to the Initiative for Investigative Reporting, it turns out our worries were spot-on.
Cheerleading the Red Sox expansion at that time was the Boston Globe, whose corporate parent, the New York Times Company, owned an extremely valuable minority interest in the ball club, as well as a lucrative share of its broadcasting partner, NESN. This summer, the Times Co. sold most of its share for $117 million.
No doubt it is just one of life's curious coincidences that the eagle-eyed student journalists at Northeastern, led by the renowned former Globe investigative reporter Steve Kurkjian, had the wit to revisit the deal between the Sox and city of Boston.
Times change. A fresh breeze blows.