Ticket shock

By IAN DONNIS  |  March 10, 2008

Perhaps concerns about a possible backlash explain why the Red Sox have decided not to be a part of the StubHub-MLB relationship.

Then again, we don’t really know since this is as specific as Sox spokeswoman Susan Goodenow would get when explaining the decision: “We are exploring all options with the secondary-ticket market with an eye toward taking a walk-before-we-run approach. We expect to reach clarity on the issue within the next week or so.”

Concerns about a backlash
As it stands, thousands of Sox tickets for the 2008 season can still be found on various Web sites, including StubHub, whose top-selling category is baseball tickets, and where the hyper-popular Sox are listed first among the MLB offerings.

We’re not likely to hear the Red Sox state it so plainly, but the organization’s decision to opt out of the MLB-StubHub relationship reflects a delicate calculus, a consequence of the team’s success under the ownership that bought the franchise in 2002.

Because the Henry-Werner-Lucchino troika has emphatically staked its claim as the guardians of Fenway Park — the heart of Red Sox Nation — it faces the challenge of maximizing the team’s profits while preserving the sense that Average Joes can still get into the place.

As Glenn Stout, the author of more than 50 baseball books, including co-author of Red Sox Century (Houghton Mifflin, 2000), notes, the question of whether StubHub is good for Sox supporters is kind of beside the point. The precious nature of Sox tickets, he says, “is a product of how a lot of things have changed down at Fenway Park, in Major League Baseball,” and in professional sports.

The Red Sox will keep drawing as long as the team is winning. But if the fan base feels it is being excluded and taken for granted, there could be fallout.

Stout notes that fans’ connection with the Sox “is an emotional one that often flies in the face of logic.” If these diehards step back and start thinking about the amount of time and money they’re devoting to the team, “That’s not a good thing for the Red Sox as an entity, and it’s not a good thing for the Red Sox as a business.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the arch-rival Yankees will begin playing in a new, more lucrative stadium next year.

Season ticket-holders and corporations have long held most of the best seats at Fenway Park. And while it’s difficult, but still possible to get Sox tickets at face value — particularly for less stellar seats — going to Updike’s “lyric little bandbox” has become increasingly difficult, souring at least some of the faithful.

Considering the number of Sox tickets that have been exchanged on StubHub in recent seasons, with not much in the way of publicized problems, the team hasn’t duplicated the more confrontational approach of the Patriots toward fans who re-sell their tickets.

Yet when asked whether the Sox might sanction those who sell their tickets on StubHub, Goodenow would only repeat that the team is “exploring all options.”

(Efforts have been made in recent years to do away with an anti-scalping law in Massachusetts that dates to the 1920s, so that might be a partial factor in the team’s decision not to partner with StubHub.)

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