A 'perfect storm' of excitement

After a disappointing Red Sox season, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez have fans excited again. Getty Images

BOSTON -- The question, Sam Kennedy agreed, was a fair one, given that the Boston Red Sox just signed their second-ever $20 million-a-year player, Carl Crawford, and are planning to give at least that much to another, Adrian Gonzalez.

What's going to happen to ticket prices, or as one big Sox fan put it on his Facebook page, "How much is it going to cost to sit in the bleachers next year, 100 bucks?''

The short answer is no, according to Kennedy, the team's executive vice president and chief operating officer, and president of the Fenway Sports Group. Kennedy, a Brookline High classmate of Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, was standing to one side of the podium when his ex-teammate on the Brookline baseball team introduced Boston's new left fielder Saturday morning in Fenway Park.

"We've been mindful of the need to arrest the growth of tickets [prices],'' Kennedy said. "We've had increases since we've been here in the 5 to 7 percent range. Two years ago we froze ticket prices in recognition of what was going on in the economy. This year, which was probably our biggest offseason spend in players, we only took ticket prices up 2½ percent across the board, just in certain areas behind home plate.

"What I think we'll continue to do is continue to employ the Robin Hood theory of sports marketing, which means we really aggressively sell sponsorships to generate revenue, sell corporate suites to companies that can afford them, and try and preserve the lower end prices, grandstands, bleachers.

"We don't receive, frankly, a lot of fan complaints about ticket prices. We do have 3 million pieces of inventory to sell, with ticket prices on average in the $50 to $60 range. It's accessibility. We have to figure out how to distribute them more evenly to a broader array of people.''

Kennedy acknowledged that the steep decline in TV ratings last season caught the team's attention. After leading the majors in average TV ratings in each of the previous six seasons, according to Sports Media Watch, the Sox saw a 38 percent drop and fell out of the top 5. But the Sox didn't sign Crawford and Gonzalez, he said, as marquee personalities to market.

"These moves were never about signing a star to translate into a business move or a rating,'' he said. "I used to laugh when people said the Daisuke Matsuzaka thing was about us marketing in Japan. They're always baseball decisions.

"But the ratings have a natural flow to them. I think the ability to win 95-plus games and go to the postseason is all that you focus on. The personality of a team comes out of the body of work. We've had different teams with different makeups over the 10 years we've been here. It's definitely a baseball move, but does it help business when there's excitement about baseball moves? Yes.''

The timing of the acquisitions, the same week that season ticket renewals were sent out and single-game tickets went on sale during "Christmas at Fenway" Saturday, created a "perfect storm," Kennedy said.

"Our sponsors are excited, our broadcast partners are excited, but we weren't surprised by it internally because [owners] John Henry and Tom Werner, they want to win every year, they really do, they're so competitive. I knew we were going to be aggressive. It's just fantastic. As a fan, I'm so excited.''

This should end, he said, talk that the club is boring.

"It used to bother me to hear, 'There's no personality,''' he said. "No personality? Did they see any of these guys? There's no bigger personality in baseball than Dustin Pedroia. I love the guy. I tell my son, who's a little guy, 'Look at that guy, he's probably been told his whole life he couldn't do it.' So I'm not a big subscriber to that.

"I think what happens is when you have injuries and not playing up to expectations, it brings a natural sort of malaise of, 'This teams boring, there's no personality.' I look at it as, if we're not competitive, not winning, not in the postseason, we haven't achieved our organizational goals. I didn't think the team was boring. I recognized why the fan base said it might have been boring, because we were not performing up to expectations.''

What may be more difficult to shake, though, is the notion that in order to compete with the Yankees, the Red Sox have become the Yankees. The Sox will have seven players in 2011 being paid $10 million or more. That doesn't include Gonzalez, who is expected to sign his extension after Opening Day so that it doesn't count against the team's payroll for luxury tax purposes.

The Yankees will have at least eight players being paid eight-figure salaries, including the game's only $30 million a year player, Alex Rodriguez.

"I don't think we'll ever truly resemble the Yankees,'' Kennedy insists, "because I know from the league perspective, the market size, the resources they have from their incredible new ballpark, [we're different]. We resemble each other in an incredible desire to win and a fan base expectation to win year in and year out.

"No team invested more in player payroll than the Yankees. We're right behind them. And no other team has invested as much in renovations to their ballpark as we have. Our total investment in Fenway is $285 million since 2001. This will be our last major offseason of renovations. We're spending $40 million this winter, on new video boards, and when we finish all the new seats down the right-field line every seat in the ballpark will have been replaced.''

The expectation is that there will be fannies in every one of those seats, too, for a team that boasts a consecutive sellout streak of 631 games. And for now, at least, the wallets in those back pockets won't be lightened. That's the Red Sox line, and they're sticking to it.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.