Lucchino: Streak likely to end in April

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Boston Red Sox's record 793-game sellout streak at Fenway Park will likely come to an end in April, team president Larry Lucchino predicted Friday.

“It’s going to rest in peace sometime in April, I suspect,” Lucchino said of the streak, which began in 2003 and is the longest in U.S. pro sports history. “That’s not such a terrible thing. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment.”

Ticket sales for the 2013 season are down. Lucchino called it the most challenging year in this ownership’s tenure in Boston. The team is expecting the home opener on April 8 to be sold out, but the streak could end as early as the second home game of the season April 10.

“Some people have been guessing about it,” Lucchino said. “Historically, for all of baseball, the second game of the season has been the toughest game to sell tickets for, so it could be as early as that. I have no doubt Opening Day will be a sellout. Of course, April weather doesn’t help a lot. We have a lot of home games in April, and it could be as early as the second, but I do expect it to be in that first or second week.”

The nearly-10-year-old streak began on May 15, 2003 and stretched through the end of the 2012, when the Sox finished the season with a home attendance figure of 3,043,003. The Red Sox broke the record for consecutive regular-season sellouts this past June, surpassing the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers mark of 744.

There have been questions about the authenticity of the record, and whether Fenway Park was truly sold out on a nightly basis last season or whether the streak would be more accurately dubbed a distribution streak.

Lucchino strongly defended the streak, saying the team has not “cooked the books” to make sure the run continued over the years.

“I know there’s been a battle of definitions going on out there,” Lucchino said. “I’ll just say a couple of things about it: 1) We took the definition that was in place when we got here. We didn’t gerrymander a new definition of what a sellout was. We took the definition that was in place, and had been in place for 10, 20 years before us and was commonly used by many clubs in baseball.

“Then there’s a dictionary, literal definition that some have taken, but I would point you to one fact. Over the last 11 years, and I checked on this this morning in anticipation that question might come up, we have sold roughly sold 36,200 tickets [per game] and our capacity over that course of time has changed with the addition of different parts of the ballpark.

“The capacity is something like 36,300. We have sold 99.6 percent of the available seating capacity over the last 11 years and our comp tickets are among the lowest in all of baseball. We talk about having more people in the ballpark than there are seats for them and that’s been the operating definition. You can choose a different one and say it doesn’t fit it, but the truth is we’ve sold almost 36,170 tickets [per game] over the last 11 years. That, by itself, aside definition, semantics, whatever, that by itself is extraordinary, selling 99.6 percent of the available tickets is extraordinary.”

Lucchino admitted there’s been a reduction in ticket revenue this offseason, but believes if there’s a winning product on the field, fans will continue to flock to Fenway.

“If we have the kind of successful franchise, the successful team that we think we’ll have, people will jump back into the ballpark -- albeit a later time in the season than they have historically,” he said. “I don’t want to predict too much of a downturn yet, but I do know it’s a possibility. I still think we will generate, from a lot of sources, some that are occasionally decried by members of the media will still be substantial.”

Since last season, there’s been speculation that the Red Sox, or at least part of it, for was sale. Time and again, principal owner John Henry and Lucchino have denied that claim, which the team president did again on Thursday.

“We tried to say to those who asked that it was a false rumor,” Lucchino said. “We didn’t know where it came from, but if it’s repeated a couple of times, it tends to gain a little credence, perhaps, but it has never been a consideration. I’ve never been in a meeting where anyone discussed the idea of us selling this team.

“It is a labor of love. It truly is and if we haven’t made that clear in 11, going on our 12th year, we are in it because we’re competitive people. We’re in it to win. We have spent our money, yeah we’re concerned about generating revenue, make no mistake about that and we’re not embarrassed or apologetic for that. But the revenue goes into the ballclub. It goes into the payroll. It goes into the amateur signing bonuses. It goes into the machinery of the club. It doesn’t go out into the private bank accounts.”

Because the Red Sox have failed to reach the postseason since 2009, the team’s offseason reshuffling and the perceived strength of the AL East, many will predict Boston to finish near the bottom of the division once again.

“I actually like being the underdog,” Lucchino said. “The fact that the media and the sports pundits pick us in the lower reaches of the American League East is in some ways challenging and comforting for me. It wasn’t that long ago [2011] when some people in this room talked about the greatest team of all time, a 100-victory season and all of that. They were wrong then as many of them are wrong now.”

Lucchino promised this year’s team would be competitive. Then he actually gave his preseason pick for the AL East.

“If I had to name a favorite, I would put the target on my friend Paul Beeston in Toronto and let him see how he likes being the preseason favorite,” Lucchino said. “I reminded him recently, there’s no trophies for winning the offseason. If he wants to go into the season, feeling he is the prohibitive favorite, that’s great. We’re just scrappy underdogs trying to win for our franchise and our fans.”