Lucchino expects Fenway sellout streak to end
Red Sox team president/CEO relishes underdog role, anticipates resurgence
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Larry Lucchino has seen the mountain top as president/CEO of the Red Sox, and after the past two seasons, he also knows what the nadir looks like.
While Lucchino is unified with the rest of the organization in thinking that a resurgence could be in the making as soon as this season, he knows that the team's record-setting sellout streak of 793 games at Fenway Park will soon come to an end.
"It's going to rest in peace, I think, sometime in April, I suspect," Lucchino said. "That's not such a terrible thing. It's an extraordinary accomplishment."
Lucchino also addressed some media outlets that have questioned the validity of the streak.
"I know there's been a battle of definitions going on out there. I'll say a couple of things about it. One is we took the definition that was in place when we got here," Lucchino said. "We didn't gerrymander a new definition. We took the definition that was in place and had been in place 10, 20 years before us and was commonplace among many clubs in baseball.
"And then there's a dictionary, literal definition that some have taken. But I would just point you to one fact. Over the last 11 years, and I checked this this morning in anticipation this might come up. We have sold -- sold -- roughly 36,200 tickets [per game]. Our capacity over that time has changed. That capacity is something like 36,300, something like that.
"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. 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 36,170-something tickets over the course of the last 11 years, and that by itself -- put aside definitions or semantics -- that by itself is extraordinary. Selling 99.6 percent of the tickets is extraordinary."
Lucchino suspects the streak -- which is the longest in pro sports history -- could come to an end as early as April 10, when the Sox play their second home game of the season against the Orioles.
"Yes, 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. 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, and we have a lot of home games in April. It could be as early as the second [game], but I suspect it will be sometime in that first or second week."
In general, Lucchino seems enthused and intrigued by what 2013 might offer for Red Sox fans.
"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 to me. It wasn't that long ago [Spring Training of 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 and many of them are wrong now.
"We're going to be a competitive team. If we were going to name a favorite, I'd put the target on my friend Paul Beeston in Toronto and let him see how he likes being the preseason favorite. As I reminded him recently, there's no trophy for winning the offseason. If he wants to go into the season feeling he's the prohibitive favorite, that's great. We're just the scrappy underdogs trying to win for our franchise and for our fans."
Does Lucchino agree with principal owner John Henry, who said that the loss of core beliefs within the organization led to the slide?
"It's something that has been discussed for a little while now internally. I'm not surprised that John has said it to you all as well," Lucchino said. "He feels pretty strongly that we deviated from a basic philosophy of grinding relentless at-bats deep in the count, on-base percentage, some of the fundamental things that got us to the success we had. We have fallen considerably. We used to have incentives in contracts relating to on-base percentage to show you how important we thought it was. I think there was kind of a deviation from that, somewhere along the way."
The Red Sox are open about where they are these days. One of the marketing slogans heading into the season is "What's broken can be fixed."
"It's a marketing slogan, but I think this one has the added virtue of being true and transparent that we know that the last year and the final month of the preceding year were the beginning of a very downward trend for this franchise -- a historic collapse, a disastrous 2012," Lucchino said. "That it was no secret that things needed to be repaired, reset, rebuilt, reloaded, whatever words you want to use, and acknowledging it was probably an honest way to start the season."
Much like Henry a few days ago, Lucchino had little to say about the critiques of team ownership in a recent book co-authored by former Sox manager Terry Francona and Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy.
"I haven't [read it]," Lucchino said. "I know some people find that hard to believe. It seems logical to me. I want to look forward and not back. I'm afraid if I do read it, I will find in it inaccuracies and things that will cause kind of me to react to it in a way that would divert me and cause some kind of sideshow instead of dealing with the here and now. It seems perfectly logical to me not to read it. I don't feel any great compulsion to. I might get around to it sooner or later."
One assertion made several times in the book is that the Red Sox started to lose their way when they put too much emphasis on marketing and not enough on baseball. But Lucchino points out that those two elements are entirely related.
"We are in it to win. We have spent our money. We are concerned about generating revenue," Lucchino said. "We are 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 private bank accounts.
"We're not the largest market in baseball. As a television market, we're, like, 22nd in terms of all TV homes. But we overproduce, generate revenue beyond that television market size and use that money to go into the franchise.
"You should have a body of evidence that demonstrates that. You can look at the payroll for the last 11 years. You can look at the increase in amateur signing bonuses. You can look at the increase in foreign player signings. You can look at the size of the baseball operations staff, we've hired scouts when we've needed them. We've generated money because we need to to have the kind of winning baseball team we want to have."