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Sale of beer rising sharply at Fenway Park

Sox to meet with city board on complaints

The new owners of the Boston Red Sox have greatly expanded alcohol sales at Fenway Park, adding at least 16 new stands where beer is sold since taking over in 2001, according to the city licensing board. The team has also increased by a third the size of beer cups, from 12 ounces to 16 ounces.

The volume of beer sold at Fenway last year jumped roughly 20 percent from the year before, according to information provided by the Red Sox. Two employees of Aramark, the company that manages Fenway concessions, and a beer salesman who supplies the ballpark said they believe that since the new owners took over beer sales have increased significantly more than 20 percent.

Concerns over alcohol consumption at the ballpark have triggered complaints from some fans and Fenway neighborhood activists who say home games have become marred by rowdy behavior. The recent altercation between a fan and New York Yankees right fielder Gary Sheffield has drawn attention to a problem that some say has grown worse in recent years. Boston's Licensing Board has scheduled a hearing with Red Sox officials May 10 to investigate alcohol-related complaints.

''I have had a number of complaints from individuals and from families who have said they were in the stands and, 'My God, we couldn't wait for them to shut off the beer,' " said Michael Connolly, a licensing board member. ''They were rowdy and the profanities were going."

Red Sox officials denied that alcohol problems have increased at Fenway. The officials said the team expanded points of sale for beer in order to reduce the time fans have to wait in line and said that the number of beers sold dropped in 2004, to 3.1 million, despite an increase in the number of fans attending games. They conceded that with larger cup sizes the volume of alcohol being sold might be higher.

''When you add more points of sale, whether for hot dogs, peanuts, sodas, or beer, you address the concerns of the fans -- that long lines are an uncomfortable part of the experience," said team spokesman Charles Steinberg. ''With greater attendance and shorter lines and popular items, it's not surprising that consumption would go up."

Though a limited number of 12-ounce cans of beer are sold at the park, the majority of beers sold are drafts in 16-ounce cups, which are $6 each. Import beers are $6.75 each. The Red Sox would not release their revenues from beer sales. The New York Times Co., which owns the Boston Globe, owns 17 percent of the Red Sox.

According to city records, new beer-vending locations have been added atop the Green Monster, on Yawkey Way, along the concourse at gate E, and along a new concourse near the corner of Ipswich and Van Ness streets. They have also been added behind the new canvas alley seats along the upper grandstand on the first-base line and near the new infield box seats, the records show.

Steinberg said that, with a few exceptions, fan behavior at Fenway has become better because of the changes made to the ballpark.

''There has been a noticeable sense of improved civility, particularly in the bleachers area, where security has noticed that ever since we built the big concourse and created decongestion areas, the mood and nature of the crowd has actually been more civil," Steinberg said.

Not all fans agree, however. Paul Della Valle, a fan from Sterling, said that increasingly he has felt the experience of going to games has been overshadowed by fans who drink too much.

''They think it's all about going to Fenway Park and getting drunk, and Fenway Park seems to encourage that," he said. ''They don't have any restrictions on how much they can drink. I'm no stranger to drinking -- I've had a few too many a few times. But I don't think we should be celebrating or encouraging it at Fenway Park. They love to say it's a family atmosphere, and mostly it is. But other times, you can't go without seeing some kind of disturbance in the stands."

Alcohol sales at Fenway has become a sensitive subject, and several people who work at the ballpark agreed to speak to the Globe only on the condition that their names not be used.

A Boston police officer who regularly works paid details during games at Fenway, who asked not to be identified, said drinking at the park has spiraled ''totally out of control."

''They put a beer stand every 15 or 20 feet," said the veteran officer. ''Every corner of the ballpark has a beer stand. Never in my entire life have I seen so much alcohol being served over there. When I was a kid we used to fight over there because of alcohol. But they cut back. Now the new thing is to sell as much beer as possible."

With the expansion of the ballpark to include Yawkey Way, which is now blocked off for ticket-holding fans on game days and includes several Fenway beer stands, many game-goers are arriving earlier and drinking longer, he said.

He and another officer who regularly works detail shifts at the park said problem fans are more often ejected from games than arrested. Since police started keeping records of the number of fans ejected from games in July last year, 541 have been kicked out. Fifty-four of those were during the eight home games so far in 2005. Five fans have been charged with drinking, trespassing, or being a disorderly person so far this year.

Red Sox officials wouldn't provide figures on the number of new beer concessions added at the ballpark. However, the licensing board's chairman, Daniel Pokaski, said that at least 16 beer-vending locations, some of them with several taps, are new.

One longtime Fenway worker who sells beer from concession stands said the team's new owners have added roughly 35 taps in various concession locations throughout the park and on Yawkey Way. That is double the number that existed before 2002, he said.

''No doubt about it -- they're selling more beer," said the beer seller. ''When I'm working I go through three kegs of beer by myself. That's a lot of beer."

A single tap, he said, can generate $3,000 to $4,000 in sales per game.

Still, the beer seller said, fans are not allowed to drink without limit and are required to produce IDs. Drunken fans are turned away, he said.

''If they're obviously drunk, I sell them nothing," he said. ''No one will sell to them. If they get persistent I call security and they take them out of here. You're talking 40,000 people. They have a no-tolerance rule. They'll throw you out for anything."

Last Monday, the Red Sox announced disciplinary measures in an incident this month in which two fans, Christopher House and another man, interfered with Sheffield as he tried to field a ball near the right-field fence. House swung his arm near Sheffield and the other fan threw beer at the player. House's seven season tickets were revoked for at least the remainder of 2005, and the other fan, who is not a season-ticket holder, is not allowed to purchase tickets for the rest of the season. It was not clear what role alcohol played in the incident.

Steinberg said last week that Fenway enforces a policy of responsible drinking at the park.

''Responsible alcohol consumption has always been a front-line concern," Steinberg said. ''Keeping a warm and hospitable atmosphere is essential to the Fenway experience. I don't sense a rise in disturbing behavior. But if fans report it to us, that will be treated very seriously."

Still, Pokaski said the licensing board wants ''to review the team's alcohol policy with the idea of making it tighter."

''If the board isn't satisfied that underage people do not drink and people aren't being over served at the ballpark and that people aren't being allowed in already intoxicated from some of the local waterholes -- these issues will have to be addressed by the staff at Fenway and by Aramark," Pokaski said.

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