BOSTON — In a year to forget for its main tenant, Fenway Park continues to provide unforgettable moments.
As a matter of fact, the 107-year-old grand dame of baseball has become more of a star this year than the defending World Series champion Red Sox, who are limping to the finish of what will be a non-playoff season. Tuesday on Jersey Street offered up the unforgettable sight of Carl Yastrzemski taking a stroll in the outfield with his grandson Mike, who hours later belted his 20th homer of the season for the visiting Giants to the center field bleachers in what would turn out to be a 7-6 San Francisco win in 15 innings, a game that was six minutes shy of six hours.
Hours earlier, it was formally announced that Fenway Park would – starting in Dec. 2020 – join Yankee Stadium and Chase Field as MLB parks to host a game during college football’s bowl season in the final two weeks of December.
Say this for the John Henry ownership group, whether or not the baseball club is having a successful season, they have poured countless hours and millions into reviving the home of the Red Sox. You can criticize all you want the drama (sometimes needless) and reactionary decision-making that revolves around the team. But you cannot dispute what Sam Kennedy, Mark Lev and Fenway Sports Management have done with the facility in the past decade.
Four World Series titles later, it’s really hard to argue with either the vision or the game plan. The lingering question of ‘What’s next?’ always seems to linger inside Fenway Park offices.
They have been very measured in every single step along the 18-year path toward renovating and reinvigorating a building that was left for dead by the previous stewards. The thought was that reviving Fenway just wasn’t feasible and that a new Fenway was a mere formality, either next door or on the waterfront. But former team president Larry Lucchino brought in Janet Marie Smith to oversee the early stages of renovation.
The building, namely its crumbling and tired infrastructure, had to be refurbished if it were going to becoming the income-generating machine that would supplement the baseball franchise and help it grow. That was step 1. Step 2 was adding seats – like above the Green Monster – and amenities that would draw more fans to games and be willing to pay more for season tickets or partial season tickets. Attendance grew steadily in the first 10 years of Henry ownership.
The third step was testing Fenway as a host to non-baseball events with small-scale events to make sure the building and staff could handle them and learn from them. The fourth step was attracting major events like concerts and college football games that would include Fenway in a regular rotation of national tours and make it a Boston destination.
A quick refresher: Fenway Sports Management is the sales, marketing and special events arm for Henry’s Fenway Sports Group’s elite portfolio of sports properties, which includes the Red Sox and Liverpool of the English Premier League. Now, according to Fenway Sports Management President Mark Lev, it’s time for Fenway Park to reach that “next level” in its existence.
Lev’s Fenway Sports Management, along with ESPN Events and the City of Boston Tuesday officially introduced the “The Fenway Bowl,” an annual college football bowl game at Fenway Park featuring a matchup between teams from the American Athletic Conference (AAC) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and is set to kick-off at the home of the Boston Red Sox beginning in 2020.
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) September 17, 2019
“It’s really a privilege and an honor for me and for Fenway Sports Management and Fenway Sports Group to officially announce that in 2020 we’re going to take it to the next level and usher in a new college football tradition at Fenway Park, featuring teams from the AAC and the ACC in the Fenway Bowl,” Lev said. “Our partner ESPN has been instrumental in making the Fenway Bowl possible. ESPN will both co-produce and televise the games.”
As part of a six-year partnership between ESPN Events and FSM, The Fenway Bowl will mark the first time that a college football bowl game will be played in front of the “Green Monster,” ushering in a new football tradition at Fenway Park.
Kennedy, who will be looking for a general manager replacement for Dave Dombrowski this offseason, took time on Tuesday to shine light on what the ownership and management group has been able to do with its most visible asset and attraction.
“Producing dynamic events of this caliber is precisely what our ownership group envisioned when they made the commitment to reestablish the ballpark as a year-round venue that showcases the very best in competitive sports and entertainment,” Kennedy said.
Team selections for the bowl will take into account a number of factors, including regular season win-loss record and geographic proximity, as well as previous appearances and matchups. The game will be jointly produced by FSM and ESPN Events, and will be televised by ESPN.
“It would be almost trite to describe Fenway Park as an iconic location. We all know its incredible history and tradition,” said American Athletic Commissioner Michael Aresco. “We appreciate the outstanding management of the venue. It’s really woven into what is the magical sports fabric of America, and I applaud Sam Kennedy, the Red Sox President and CEO, and Fenway Sports Management President Mark Lev for their vision and their really hard work in making this bowl game a reality. It’s not easy to do a bowl game, it really isn’t. We know. We founded a bowl game once. It’s a hard thing to do, and they’ve done it. Fenway Sports Management will obviously run a first-class event and promote the game, as will ESPN and the conference, and there will be a lot to promote.”
Added Clint Overby, ESPN Events Vice President: “I have to thank our partners at Fenway Sports Management for helping put and shape this event. Without their input, without their willingness to really think with us and how to put this together, we really wouldn’t be here.
“This venue sells itself, right? For all the bowl games I’ve been in in my life, and I’ve been a part of 16, this bowl game will certainly be one of the most enlightening for us in terms of working an historic venue like Fenway Park. We talk about how many times the word ‘historic’ will be used with respect to this venue and this event but it’s truly appropriate and it truly matches the level and gravity we’re trying to meet with this event.”
Music to the ears of those at Fenway Sports Management. Now if the baseball people can just figure out what to do with Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Jackie Bradley Jr. and the pitching staff.
For further details and information about the Fenway Bowl, fans can visit FenwayBowl.com.