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Natali Gingras worked next to a mural of a packed Fenway Park at Ace Ticket in Brookline yesterday. The Red Sox sellout streak is in jeopardy.
Natali Gingras worked next to a mural of a packed Fenway Park at Ace Ticket in Brookline yesterday. The Red Sox sellout streak is in jeopardy. (Evan Richman/ Globe Staff)

Sox tickets? Suddenly, they're not so hot

As team slides, demand cools and deals abound

Just a few weeks ago, it was a nearly impossible ticket to get -- the Red Sox at home. Now, tickets to Sox games are not only available, they can be had for face value or less.

Season-ticket holders are suddenly trying to sell seats for what once were must-see games, and Internet sites such as eBay and Craigslist are groaning with near-giveaways. Even ticket agencies, known for sky-high markups, are offering their best prices in years.

In an offer unimaginable only a month ago, Liz Brownell, 24, of Dedham, was using Craigslist yesterday to pitch a pair of $45 grandstand seats for face value for Sunday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays. When the Sox were in first place earlier this season, similar seats fetched $150 each.

``Prices have dropped pretty drastically," Brownell said. ``Who wants to pay through the nose to see a lousy team play with third-string players?"

Benjamin Ewell, 25, of Arlington, Va., was trying to sell three $20 standing-room tickets for Sunday. ``I'm definitely selling due to the recent woes," Ewell said. Before his boss anted up yesterday and bought the tickets at face value, Ewell said, the best offer he had fielded on Craigslist was $30 for all three.

``Even if I had to eat the tickets, it's better than paying for the extra night at the hotel and suffering through another loss," said Ewell, a native of Shelburne, Vt., who planned to attend Saturday's game.

Even though the Sox have sold out every game since May 15, 2003, there is no guarantee that the streak will continue through the rest of the season. ``The true test will be this upcoming homestand," said Ron Bumgarner, vice president of ticketing.

Bumgarner said the team holds at least 300 tickets per game for walk-ups. ``With team performance also goes demand," Bumgarner said. ``We are keeping an eye out."

The 10-game homestand, featuring a depleted and injury-wracked Red Sox lineup, includes games against Toronto, the world champion Chicago White Sox, and the lowly Kansas City Royals.

Part of what has made Fenway such a tough ticket is its capacity of 35,692 for day games and 36,108 for night games -- the smallest in the major leagues. But the Sox's recent free-fall in the pennant race also appears to have taxed the patience of the team's fans.

According to the team's website, tickets cost between $12 for upper bleacher seats and $275 for the EMC Club.

On Craigslist yesterday, Christopher Newman, 25, a Rhode Island transplant who lives in New York, had posted this desperate sales pitch for re-selling his box seats:

``Buy one, get one free deal. I paid $120 with face and box office fees." Newman's price for Sunday's game: $58 for the pair.

Jim Holzman, president of Ace Ticket, said his agency is offering the best deals in three years. Red Sox prices are down about 30 percent from last year, Holzman said, with a 25 percent drop in the last two weeks alone. Customers can buy a bleachers seat for as low as $35, he said. Last September, the same tickets sold for $59, Holzman said.

The team's nosedive also has affected businesses in the neighborhood. Jim Rooney, owner of the Baseball Tavern, said he expects a 10 to 15 percent drop in business during September. At The Souvenir Store, manager Patty Hamm said sales have dipped recently.

``After the Yankee series, we were bummed, and it was quiet in here," Hamm said. ``When they're on the road, it's always quiet, but we're a lot quieter now."

The slump has given some Boston visitors a chance to find tickets. Nello Ciccone, 23, of Philadelphia, said he visited the Fenway Park ticket office and bought two standing-room tickets for tonight's game against Toronto. ``They're playing bad, and that's why I knew there'd be tickets because I wasn't worrying about it selling out," Ciccone said.

Charles Steinberg, executive vice president of public affairs for the Red Sox, said he expected the sellout streak -- the second-longest in major-league history -- to continue.

``If it ends by natural causes, then so be it," Steinberg said. ``The demand so far has shown no letup."

Sox officials continue to exhibit a sunny optimism, perhaps nowhere more evident than in the team's offer of playoff and World Series seats to season-ticket holders.

In a letter mailed recently by the Red Sox, season-ticket holders were offered ``warm greetings as we drive through the `dog days' of August and plunge into the pennant chase in September." Later in the letter, the Sox wrote that ``the return of Curt Schilling and the reliability of other veterans such as Manny Ramirez, Trot Nixon, Tim Wakefield, Mike Timlin, Jason Varitek, and Doug Mirabelli have been gratifying."

For fans not paying attention, Nixon, Wakefield, and Varitek have been on the disabled list for weeks. Ramirez has leg injuries that have kept him out of the lineup for much of the West Coast trip that ended yesterday.

Newman yesterday summarized the pessimistic feelings that have enveloped many fans. ``It is either eat the tickets and the bill, or sell them for face or less and make at least some money back," Newman said.

``To be honest, at this point, I have no interest in going to games at Fenway this weekend and wouldn't mind giving them away for free."

Globe correspondent LeMont Calloway contributed to this report.

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