BOSTON — This is the 17th season Tom Werner has served as Chairman of the Red Sox and each year he has watched Fenway Park change, transforming an outdated relic into America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.
While the moniker might sound pretentious to some on the outside, every year the Red Sox have poured millions and millions of dollars and countless hours of sweat and mind-power into putting legitimacy behind a simple marketing concept.
Now, as the diamond that sits nestled in the heart of Fenway on the corner of Brookline and Lansdowne prepares for its 107th season as home to the Red Sox, team officials are confident that fans will be thrilled with not just the team they see on the field but the experience they have inside.
“I remember John Henry said once about Fenway Park, ‘It never gets old’ and here were are in this ball park that they’ve been playing baseball in for over 100 years and yet there are places that are new,” Werner told me Tuesday. “There are new food offerings and places for kids to play. Each year, we try to do something to tweak it.”
Sam Kennedy was Theo Epstein’s teammate on the Brookline High baseball team and he and the former Red Sox general manager grew up coming to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox. Kennedy has now assumed the stewardship of the main tenant inside the venerable baseball facility.
“I grew up coming here in the 70s and 80s and 90s a lot with my mom and dad and walking to games and as I walk in here every morning, it sort of still feels the same, even though there’s been a lot of changes,” the team president told me Tuesday, two days before the home opener against the Rays. “The hippocratic oath of ‘Do No Harm’ stays true to today. We started that in 2002 when we weren’t sure we were going to be able to stay at Fenway. We examined it.”
Kennedy has been with the John Henry group for the entirety of their run with the Red Sox since 2002. He knows exactly what kind of bang for the buck Henry and Werner want for their customers. He also knows the critical need to protect the integrity of the experience. It’s a fine line Kennedy doesn’t walk. He dances on it.
“We announced in 2005 we were staying and the governor was sort of taken off and we were free to go and explore new seating areas, new information, new advertising positions,” Kennedy continued. “The City has been a great partner with us along the way. I think one of the legacies of the John Henry and Tom Werner stewardship will be preserving, protecting, enhancing Fenway Park.”
And enhance they have, to the tune of over $300 million over 16 seasons. The latest renovations were unveiled Tuesday, a sneak peek into several new features, including the Jim Beam Dugout suite along the right field line, next to the first base camera well, the Sam Deck in right field (replacing the Budweiser Roof Deck) and extensive additions of netting down both the right and left field lines.
“You never want to lose that,” Werner said of keeping Fenway’s integrity. “This is a very special place to play baseball. I don’t think were going to add too many new seats but this is a new area for people to have fun, like when we added the Budweiser Roof Deck, now the Sam Deck. We’re trying to do improvements but keep the integrity of the ball park.”
As much as the Red Sox want to protect the integrity of their home, they realize it’s more important to protect their customers and their interest, namely safety. Per the mandate of MLB, protective netting has been extended beyond the dugouts at Fenway Park for the start of the 2018 season. The new netting system extends from Field Box Section 79 to Field Box Section 9, expanded from an area previously covering Field Box Section 61 to Field Box Section 29. The system stands at 12 feet, 8 inches above the playing field and is a new “field green” color to minimize the impact to sight-lines in affected areas. All 30 Major League clubs extended protective netting for the 2018 season.
“All of major league baseball have netting extending past the dugout,” Werner said. “Obviously, fan safety is important. In the beginning, I noticed it but after three or four innings, you forget that it’s there. I have these lovely seats (behind Red Sox on-deck circle) near home plate. First couple of times I was aware of it but I think you forget about it very quickly, and obviously fan safety is paramount. It’s not distracting to me anymore. Maybe a couple of people but I get used to it.”
Then there’s actually getting young fans into their ball park to become fans in the first place.
“This is something real important for us this year, to try and bring in young baseball (fans),” Kennedy said. “Baseball needs to connect with that next generation of fan. It’s really important. Of course, all of our games are going to be streaming live on NESN this year. If they’re not here, they’re going to be on their mobile devices, whether we like it or not. That’s where everybody lives these days.
“If we’re not connecting with that next generation of fans, we’re in trouble. That’s a huge push for the Red Sox, a huge push for Major League Baseball.”
Enter the “Student 9s” ticket program.
“We’ve got $9 tickets for students anywhere in New England, middle school, high school, college students, just show your ID,” Kennedy said. “We have tickets every single game at the ticket office. You can get them online as well, for $9. We’re trying to get younger fans into Fenway Park. Some days you may get a standing room ticket, some days you may get a field box seat.
“You may be in the bleachers, the Monster, whatever inventory we have we’ll make available for $9. That’s been a huge push for us. We have a big marketing push to get fans to come in. People come to Boston for school, fall in love with Red Sox and Fenway and then move away but keep that love for the Red Sox.”
Some might be willing to pay more for that love than others. The Jim Beam Dugout, a new premium field-level group seating area situated beyond the Red Sox dugout on the first base line, will accommodate groups of 25 people. The new space is sold on a game-by-game basis and gives fans a view similar to the players by recreating the dugout experience with bats, helmets, and even a giant Gatorade cooler.
The field level group space could cost anywhere between $8,000 and $20,000 per game, and includes a pregame meal in the National Car Rental Royal Rooters Club, a tour of the ballpark, and in-seat service for drinks and snacks during the game. The Jim Beam Dugout can be reserved by contacting the Red Sox premium sales group at 617-226-6912, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
As part of a new partnership with Samuel Adams, the Official Beer of the Boston Red Sox, the Right Field Roof Deck has been refreshed and rebranded as the “Sam Deck.” The space, which features a large bar and lounge seating area, will offer a variety of beers and many Sam Adams offerings, including Sam Boston Lager, Sam Seasonal Varieties, Sam ’76, and Rebel IPA.
The space will also include a number of Sam Adams-inspired food items such as loaded house nachos smothered in Sam Adams infused beef chili, steak frites with Sam Adams marinated Savenor’s prime steak tip, and Savenor’s short rib grilled cheese braised with Sam Lager with a side of home-style tater tots. Above the space is a newly constructed neon Sam Adams sign that sits nearly 74 feet long by 10 feet high, and the deck will feature a number of new signature Sam Adams signage elements.
“Sammy’s on 3rd” has replaced the 3rd Base Saloon in the third base concourse area near Gate E for the 2018 season. The bar area, which was last renovated prior to the 2016 season, has been rebranded with a number of Sam Adams signage elements, such as new murals and beer barrel tops. The bar area will feature extensive craft beers, highlighted by Sam Adams flavors.
A new row of seating in left field was added past the visitors’ dugout between Field Box sections 72 and 79 to accommodate 30 new seats. This additional row of seats is positioned behind the newly expanded protective netting system. The field wall in front of the new seats now aligns with the existing adjacent camera well.
Everyone knows Fenway Park is also America’s Most Expensive Ball Park (CBS News rates it $157 for 2 average tickets, 2 beers, 2 hot dogs and parking).
It’s up to Kennedy, Werner and Henry to make sure they’re getting their moneys-worth. So far, over 16 seasons and three World Series titles, hard to argue with their approach.