Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Sellout Streak Ended Yesterday

According to the Red Sox, 37,292 fans attended yesterday's 5-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners. It just isn't true. There were noticeable empty patches of seats in the bleachers, grandstands, and boxes. And these patches remained empty all game long, so they weren't seats owned by people going to get a beer or take a leak. These seats went unoccupied for the duration of the game.

Even the parking lots around Fenway failed to fill up. Which is surreal actually.

And there's no shame in it. It was a work day, a school day, a rainy day, and an uninteresting opponent was in town. There's no disgrace in announcing an accurate 32,500 fans in attendance. There is, however, shame in lying.

The Sox want to continue their sellout streak. Their definition of a sellout is that all tickets have been distributed. In other words, the ticket for every seat has been sent/sold/allocated/given-to-charity/given-to-friends-and-family. If the Sox sell a few hundred tickets to StubHub or AceTicket and those companies can't sell them, the Sox technically did sell them. So they call it a sellout.


And of course, actual ticketholders are occasionally prevented from attending. Family emergencies, unexpected projects at work, MBTA mishaps, the recently divorced neighbor finally inviting you, with a wink, to The 99 for drinks and popcorn.

But the spirit of the streak is that the ballpark is filled to capacity (or near it). And it wasn't yesterday. Not even close.

And the Sox don't even distribute all their tickets, at least not according to this Globe exposé. They have plenty of tickets, in their possession, undistributed, and going to waste. How is that selling out?

Tuesday marked the 9th anniversary of the sellout streak's beginning: May 15th, 2003.

I remember almost a month before that, I went to a game that the Sox failed to sell out. I was in Row 50 of the bleachers on a blustery mid-April night. The temperature was 41 degrees at the first pitch, and it steadily decreased from there thanks to a harsh wind blowing off the ocean. Jeff Tam couldn't throw strikes in the 7th (the fans around us started a variety of Tam-pon based chants), and the Sox beat the Blue Jays 7-3.

31,440 fans were there. Not a sellout. But everyone there was a fan. Or a psycho. Or a problem drinker. An entertaining collection of people.

It's funny. As the attendance in Fenway has increased, the number of true fans in attendance has decreased. The other night, I actually heard a girl ask her friend, with bewilderment, "you mean you actually stay the whole game?" It was as if her friend had said she stays in movie theaters until all the credits are done.

Fenway Park has become a trendy bar, with a high cover charge, and mediocre entertainment. It's the place to be, the place to meet, the place to be seen.

Yesterday, about 33,000 real fans showed up to honor Tim Wakefield, and see the Sox play. I know the Red Sox Front Office wants to beat the Portland Trail Blazers' sellout streak of 814 games. But how empty is the achievement if it's based on technicalities and semantics?

And I'll take the 31,440 real fans who saw the Sox beat the Jays in 2003. They're better than the 37,292 fake fans that go to Fenway now. And by fake fans, I mean people who aren't actually in attendance (fake numbers generated by the Front Office), and the fake fans who are actually in attendance, but aren't paying attention to the game.

There's very little reality in Fenway Park these days.

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