Bob Hohler and Seth Lasko, in today’s Boston Globe, have a a front-page article about a dirty little secret that those of us who have attended games a Fenway Park or simply watched the games on television always suspected: the vaunted Fenway sellout streak has been propped up by empty seats disguised as fans.
As speculated here in Billy-Ball.com, the ugly 2011 ending, the cold 2012 Sox start, the weak Sox home performance, paired with the unappealing opponents, and gloomy May weather has produced less than capacity crowds at Fenway, yet as Hohler and Lasko report today the streak lives on:
At 9:35 p.m. Wednesday, in the seventh inning of a game against the Oakland A’s, the Red Sox cut off ticket sales at Fenway Park with an estimated 300 seats unsold, according to a Globe gate-by-gate review and interviews with team executives.
At 10:19 p.m., the Sox announced the game was sold out. Seconds later, they said they had extended their sellout streak to 723 games, the longest in the history of Major League Baseball.
The reporters continue:
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a sellout as “something for which all tickets are sold.’’
The Sox embrace an alternate definition that permits them to declare a game sold out even if hundreds of tickets go unsold but others are distributed for free.
“I can understand the confusion,’’ said Sam Kennedy, the team’s executive vice president. “But we operate by a definition that is commonly practiced throughout Major League Baseball and professional sports.’’
The Sox count the total number of tickets they distribute, including an average of 800 complimentary tickets each game to charities and others, as the basis for a sellout. They also count standing room tickets toward the total.
Skeptics might call it a “distribution streak’’ rather than a sellout streak, given the team’s reliance on complimentary tickets.
By giving away hundreds of tickets to Wednesday’s game and selling hundreds of other standing room tickets, the Sox kept their streak alive despite reporting a paid attendance of 37,434 – 61 seats shy of capacity. They did so by including the tickets distributed, which pushed the total to 37,819, exceeding the seating capacity by 324.
In fact, the paid attendance fell short of Fenway’s seating capacity in all three games this week against the A’s, according to official box scores. Yet thanks to the distribution formula, the streak that began May 15, 2003 endures.
Later in the article the reporters hung around the ticket booths and point out how the Sox give away tickets as the evening progressed:
At Gate A, he was told sales would end at 9 p.m. At that time, he asked for a pair of tickets and was given adjacent seats in the infield grandstand section 15, row 13. He tried repeatedly to pay, but was told to take the tickets for free.
The correspondent saw the window clerk give away four more tickets moments after he received his. He then checked with the clerk just before the booth closed at 9:35 p.m. and was told that tickets remained unsold.
The Red Sox have a lot to be proud of with their streak. Red Sox Nation has a lot to be proud of with their loyalty for their team. Fenway Park is a great place to watch baseball and is a national landmark. However, by phonying up the numbers purely for the sake of the streak denigrates the fans and the ballpark and the Sox should put an end to this disingenuous procedure.