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GLOBE EDITORIAL
Sox need a new ballpark

By John Harrington, 5/25/2000

he future of the Boston Red Sox depends on a new ballpark. Because the stakes are so high, we are making public commitments today to unprecedented financial steps in order to make the new ballpark a reality.

To put it as unequivocally as possible: The Red Sox are committed to financing the entire new ballpark privately. We will put more private dollars into the new ballpark than any other sports team in history has put into its facility.

In absolute dollar terms, at the costs we face today, we are committing to putting more than $350 million into the ballpark. Additionally, we will bear any cost overruns involved in the park's construction.

To raise this somewhat staggering amount will require us to use a combination of ticket revenues, in-park marketing and advertising revenues, up-front payments for club seats and suites, deposits from season-ticket holders, naming rights, and revenue from Major League Baseball and our limited partners.

This is not easy for us, and it is not a painless promise. There are components we will consider with great reluctance, stemming from our desire to protect our fans - many of whom care a lot about their season tickets and about the name of the ballpark. But in fairness we do not think we can ask for the first public dollar until we have shown our willingness to consider every possible private dollar.

The Red Sox do not have the limitless pockets that some suggest. In financial terms, our objective, carried forward from the years that Thomas and Jean Yawkey owned the ball club, is to break even - not to turn a profit. Because I run a trust and not a traditional profit-making enterprise, and because the mandate of that trust was to serve the best interests of the baseball team, we plow all our revenues back into the Red Sox organization.

The twin goals for the Red Sox organization that we must balance are the fielding of a strong, competitive team and the preservation of Red Sox baseball as affordable family entertainment.

These goals are increasingly difficult in Fenway Park, the oldest and smallest park in the major leagues. We have stayed competitive, but we have reached the maximum on ticket prices. Frankly, ticket prices are much higher than we would like them to be, but we have no other way to raise revenue to field a team.

In the economics of today's baseball, in a tiny ballpark, these twin goals are in conflict.

To meet our goal of fielding a competitive team, we must bear in mind that much of our competition plays in ballparks substantially built by their host municipalities. This means that they enjoy a competitive advantage over us. So be it. We want to play baseball here in Massachusetts, in Boston, in the Fenway, and we accept the political realities that go along with that.

But to play here for another 100 years we do need the kind of public investments that have been made here in Massachusetts in the past. We believe that those public investments are justified by the return to the state and the city - in hard economic benefits, in increased income, sales, hotel and property taxes, and in the quality of life that a major league baseball team helps bring to a city.

The Red Sox also bring a special return through the ownership arrangement: The Yawkey Foundation will be the biggest beneficiary of any future sale of the team, and Yawkey Foundation charities - educational, health care, and youth programs - will receive millions of dollars.

That ownership arrangement and that public benefit are uniquely different from every other sports team in Massachusetts and probably unique in American sports.

Like the New England Patriots, we need infrastructure support from the state. The new ballpark project needs the same kind of assistance provided by the state for the football stadium in Foxborough - public transportation and road improvements, sidewalks, drainage systems, and parking. We are seeking the same kind of infrastructure as the Foxborough model, although obviously in a more urban location, with some commensurately higher costs.

We are prepared to provide the same kinds of revenue streams as the Patriots, although we would pay more in dollar terms.

We strongly supported the Patriots in their effort, and we believe that state leaders made the right judgment that the benefits justified their investment.

We believe our case for a similar investment is very strong: the Red Sox play 81 games; we draw more than 2 million fans a year, and we draw a very significant percentage of our fans, more than a third, from out of state.

The Red Sox are the biggest tourist attraction in Massachusetts - and we can be an even bigger attraction in a new ballpark.

We need assistance from the city we have called home for 100 years, consistent with the steps the city has taken on other projects, such as the Convention Center.

As Boston did with the Convention Center, the Red Sox need the city to acquire the land and prepare the site. We believe this investment is more than justified by the economic benefits the Red Sox will generate in a new park, but we understand that the city needs some revenue streams to support their investment.

This legislative session has about 10 weeks left. Last year's legislation for the new Patriots stadium was passed in three weeks. But this year's window of opportunity closes on July 31, and if action is not taken by then, the opening date will be pushed back another year, or several years.

That in turn means higher interest rates, construction costs, and possibly years without the benefits the new ballpark will bring to the fans, the team, the city, and the state.

Time is not on our side, and doing nothing is not an option. Fenway Park was built in 1912. We started trying to build a new ballpark in 1965, and have invested close to $100 million in Fenway Park maintenance and upkeep since then.

In terms of baseball survival, we are one of the last teams still trying to build a new ballpark. New ballparks put teams such as the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians back into contention, and other cities have followed: Twenty-six of the other 29 major league teams have either built new ballparks or are in the planning stages. If we do nothing, we will be left behind.

This legislative session may be the last chance to build this in the way we want it built.

Since Tom Yawkey bought this team more than 65 years ago, there has been an extraordinary relationship with this community, which has made this team one of the most beloved and storied sports franchises in the world.

We know how people feel about the Red Sox, and we feel the same way about Boston. The Boston Red Sox have never contemplated any other way to run this team or this franchise.

There's more than one way to finance a ballpark project, but the best overall financing plan is the one that is acceptable to all the essential parties - the team, the city, and the state. The Red Sox are prepared to do their part.

John Harrington is chief executive officer of the Boston Red Sox.

This story ran on page A25 of the Boston Globe on 5/25/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.



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