"Cheat me in the price, but not in the goods"
-- Old English proverbIt remains to be seen whether the Red Sox can repeat as World Series champions, but they had no trouble yesterday duplicating history in another fashion: For the 10th successive year, the Olde Towne Team is raising ticket prices, mostly on the high end, where the price of a field box seat was bumped up another $10, to $85 a game, but also on the low end, where a bleacher ticket will now cost $23, an increase of $3.
The new ticket prices, announced by the club along with the release of the 2005 schedule, virtually guarantees that for the seventh straight year, the Sox will ask their fans to pay the highest average prices in the major leagues. In 1997, field boxes were $26 and bleachers $10.
The new prices did not address Fenway Park's most expensive seats -- the $200 front-row seats between the dugouts -- but did reflect a rise on the wildly popular Green Monster seats, which debuted in 2003 at $50 across the board but now will cost as much as $120 a game and no less than $80. The right-field roof table seats, which were added last season at $50 and $75, depending on the opposition, now will go for $60 or $85, which doesn't include a required $25 pre-purchase of food and beverages.
No date has been set for the sale of Sox Pax and selected single-game tickets, though they are expected to stage another "Christmas at Fenway" event like the one they had last year. As reported earlier, the Sox open the 2005 season in New York against the Yankees April 4 (a switch to the night before is likely to accommodate ESPN), then are scheduled to meet the Yankees April 11 in Fenway Park in their home opener.
The overall increase for 2005 games is 7 percent, according to the club's figures, considerably less than the 28.5 percent increase in the price of bleacher seats and 22.5 percent rise in field-box prices in 2000, which led the Globe to decry the ballclub's action as "grandstand gouging." That happened under the old regime, the Yawkey Trust overseen by John Harrington. But the new ownership troika of John W. Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino, while taking incrementally smaller steps -- 57 percent of the seats either will remain at the same price as 2004 or increase by just a buck -- has continued to add to the burden of a fan base evidently willing to shoulder the higher costs: Last season, the team sold out all 81 home games.
"Follow the money," said Dr. Charles Steinberg, the team's executive vice president of public affairs, in explaining the latest round of increases.
"Here's why you're trying to increase revenues. One, so you can assemble a team for the defense of a World Series title. Two, so you can make additional improvements for the fans at Fenway Park. Three, so you can continue to make improvements at Fenway Park for the purpose of enhancing your competitive advantage."
The Sox' player payroll, which approached $130 million last year, is unlikely to drop, not when the team has more than $80 million in guaranteed salaries, even without signing a free agent, including the four high-profile free agents who wore Sox uniforms last season -- Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Orlando Cabrera.
The playing surface is in the process of being replaced on top of a new drainage system, while the home clubhouse, including training room, rehab facility, and new batting tunnels, is expected to nearly triple in size. The structure is scheduled to push out into the area currently occupied by the players' parking lot, with a second story being added. Both the field and clubhouse improvements will cost millions.
Additional work is being done on the third-base side concourses, as well as widening the lane that runs behind the grandstand from behind the plate to right field. Sox officials point to all of these projects as reasons for the increase in ticket revenues, which despite the spectacular success of NESN remains the No. 1 source of revenue for the team.
The Sox and Yankees have not opened the season against each other since 1992, and the Sox are playing their home opener against the Bombers for the first time since 1985. The teams also end the regular season with three games in Fenway Park Sept. 30-Oct. 2. After Aug. 25, the Sox are scheduled to play 24 of their last 36 games at home, including a four-team, 13-game homestand from Aug. 26-Sept. 8.
The team has just one three-city trip -- to Detroit, Anaheim, and Kansas City Aug. 15-25. The Sox make their first regular-season visit to Chicago's Wrigley Field for interleague games against the Cubs June 10-12, preceded by a visit to St. Louis and three games against the Cardinals in a World Series rematch. The Cincinnati Reds also pay their first visit to Fenway Park since the epic 1975 World Series.