THE NEW OWNERS of the Boston Red Sox struck out with the public earlier this season when the news broke that concession stands weren’t able to keep up with the fans’ demand for bottles of water. Since fans can’t bring anything into the park, including water bottles, as part of league-wide security measures, this deficit forced the thirsty to buy more-expensive lemonade or soft drinks instead. Meanwhile, those who were able to purchase bottled water inside the park did so at a significant mark up.
But we shouldn’t be surprised. For years, Fenway ticket prices have been the highest in baseball. So why shouldn’t the new team take a play from the old team’s book and squeeze the fans yet again?
Now comes the scheme to close off Yawkey Way with moveable turnstiles on game days and to sell beer (and a host of other likely overpriced commodities) to ticket holders. Profiteering from obscene water prices obviously did not do the trick, so suds must be enlisted. This is, of course, an affront to the Fenway neighborhood. It is bad for residents and local businesses alike. Vendors who’ve worked Yawkey Way for years will be squeezed out — literally, outside the turnstiles. And local businesses that currently cater to the pre-game crowd will be hurt as well.
There’s no question that it makes absolute economic sense for the new Sox owners to find any way they can to keep Fenway Park and expand it as much as possible — just as they must try to sell out the seats they have and keep demand up even when the team plays miserably. This Yawkey Way scheme, however, is an attempt to expand the " park " and take public land for the private use of selling alcohol, souvenirs, and food.
Never mind the hypocrisy of city liquor officials rubber-stamping an obviously mayor-approved plan, when they force other applicants with worthy requests to jump through hoops. Menino may have blocked plans to build a new park elsewhere, but during this economic downturn he needs businesspeople like the Sox’ owners to pay for the after-school and summer-job programs he hopes will temper the city’s recent crime wave. Thus, cash-strapped fat cats and our revenue-challenged mayor rub each other’s backs.
It’s just another example of the for-profit Red Sox seeking special civic consideration for their own private economic gain. The Sox not only seek to increase the number of ticket holders through added seating, further afflicting a community already stressed to the max at game time; they also want to increase the time spent in the neighborhood by locking these customers up for themselves.
The tunnel-vision cheerleaders who applaud this plan don’t seem to realize that existing neighborhood businesses — bars, restaurants, pool halls — with permanent locations complete with expensive leases, high overhead, and operating costs will be adversely effected. Not to mention the street vendors, who the Sox and City Hall seem determined to squeeze out of business.
There is a very real possibility that some businesses will disappear if this plan is implemented. Maybe that’s what the Sox and the mayor want. Then they could strengthen their absurd case that the neighborhood is blighted as a prelude to a new attempt at an unconstitutional eminent-domain land-taking of properties whose values will have declined because of the team’s own actions. Today’s conspiracy theory may be tomorrow’s reality.
For many years, the Phoenix has been critical of Sox management. The old owners were bad neighbors, and the new ones don’t seem any better. We know. Our offices are down the block from Fenway. We’ve opposed from the start efforts to expand Fenway in its current location. We’ve opposed the mayor’s proposal to take private land for the private gain of others. (The Phoenix headquarters would have been taken under the Menino-approved plan for a new Fenway in the current neighborhood.) Instead, we’ve long championed a new park for the players, the fans, and the city on the waterfront, as the Sox themselves once wanted. If that’s no longer a possibility, so be it. And maybe that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean the new owners should get anything they want regardless of the cost to the neighborhood.
We’ve been upfront about our special interest and straightforward about advocating alternatives. Not so the Boston Globe, which, through its corporate parent the New York Times Company — part-owner of the Sox — would profit from anything that benefits the team.
Long before the Globe became a subsidiary of the Times, its news, sports, and editorial pages were at times almost subconsciously pro-Sox. There is always the natural boosterism that attaches to the hometown team. And then there is the almost imperceptible but still traceable and very real web of relationships that bind the Globe and the Sox, including a shared law firm, overlapping banking relationships, advertisers, and other service providers who have relationships with both. In the cozy world of the old Boston, this was business as usual. But the colder reality of the new Boston demands that business be done in a different way. If the Globe is going to editorialize, as it did several days ago, in favor of the free-keg zone at Fenway, it should at least reveal that, like it or not, it is an interested party. As the Boston Herald’s Cosmo Macero recently pointed out, the Globe hasn’t been making these disclosures. Macero noted three other occasions in which the Globe editorialized on issues that will impact the Sox’ finances — the looming players’ strike over revenue sharing; annexation of Yawkey Way; and renovating Fenway Park instead of building a new stadium — yet failed to disclose the Globe’s own financial interests in these issues. We suspect that many at the Globe don’t wish to deal with these conflicts. But that’s the price you pay when you are part of a media monopoly.
Ironically, it was the Globe that broke the story about the water shortage at Fenway Park. But that story is an exception rather than the rule. It does the city a disservice to let an old-fashioned sentimentality about the modern-day Sox cloud judgment. Welcome to Reagan-inspired corporate America, where George Bush — himself a former major-league-baseball-team owner — presides in favor of CEOs to the exclusion of everyone else, where the Sox play by rules different from everyone else, and where the Boston Globe is a wholly owned subsidiary of an out-of-town media conglomerate.
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