The Boston Red Sox have a long to-do list this offseason.
Doing things to improve their relationship with the Fenway Faithful should be on it.
Really, how the Sox proceed this winter will be what heals or further fractures their relationship with fans. In past years, they’ve made difficult decisions to improve certain aspects of the franchise – such as the farm system – that have deeply wounded fans. Trading Mookie Betts to skirt the luxury tax is one example. But this offseason, they should be aligned with fans on some very obvious goals. And of course, there are gestures of goodwill that they can make, too, that will come back to them in a good (and lucrative) way in the long term.
Here are five ways the Sox can build a better team for 2023 while also improving their relationship with fans:
1. The Red Sox need to pay Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers
For months, the Red Sox have loved on Xander Bogaerts to the public, telling the world that he’s their ‘top priority,’ ‘Option A,’ their ‘first choice.’ And now that he’s officially opted out, Chaim Bloom says, “We want him back.”
Do the Sox really want a clubhouse leader and mentor like Bogaerts going and bestowing his intangible gifts upon another team? This is about keeping him in Boston as much as it is not letting someone else have him.
The Sox need to think about these two as the package deal they’ve become. Inking Bogaerts to a long-term deal would go a long way towards doing the same with Rafael Devers, and vice versa. These two want to play together, and we already know they win together. They want to keep doing so in Boston. The Sox have the money. It’s really not that complicated.
They should consider how difficult it would be to win against Bogaerts and Devers, too.
2. The Red Sox should lower ticket prices, or at least not raise them
The Red Sox are once again planning on raising ticket prices in an offseason that could see them lose a cornerstone player. Before the pandemic, that was the case during the 2019-20 offseason too, when they traded Mookie Betts to the Dodgers but still planned to increase pricing by about 1.7%. With the coronavirus keeping fans out of ballparks that season, the Sox ended up raising prices the following year, instead.
While the pandemic and current inflation have impacted the billionaire owners (won’t someone think of the poor billionaires!), their largess enables them to shoulder that burden in a way most regular joes cannot. Keeping pricing the same – especially since Fenway is already one of the most expensive experiences in the league – would be a meaningful olive branch for the people they call the ‘best fans in baseball.’
And in the long term, making Red Sox games more affordable – or at least, not less – will bring in more fans. More fans equal more money. That’s the kind of logic John Henry would like.
3. Invest in real pitching
Bloom hasn’t signed any top pitching since he took over in November 2019, opting instead to bargain hunt and look for pitchers with unlocked potential and ‘upside.’ Rarely has it panned out. He struck gold with Garrett Whitlock, but the duds far outnumber the studs.
This offseason, the Sox once again reportedly won’t target any big-name free-agent pitchers. Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom will have plenty of suitors, but don’t count on Boston to be among them. Instead, they’re reportedly looking at Andrew Heaney and were interested in Tyler Anderson before he took a lucrative deal with the Angels.
If the Sox want fans to believe they’re trying to win, they’re eventually going to have to make a splash in the arms department via trade or free-agent signing.
4. Improve the Fenway Park experience
Current Red Sox ownership has spent millions, if not a billion at this point, on renovations to Fenway Park. Previous ownership wanted to tear it down and build a modern ballpark, but John Henry & Co. have not only kept Fenway alive but refurbished and enhanced America’s Most Beloved Ballpark. For all their faults, fans have to give them credit for that.
The problem is that Fenway isn’t just expensive, it’s outdated. While other parks offer diverse concession options like sushi and poke bowls, customizable ice cream sandwiches, Indian cuisine, and Shake Shack, Boston’s home field is overrun with overpriced, outdated options. In particular, there’s very little for vegetarians and vegans to eat; they actually did away with the popular veggie burger stand after the 2017 season, somehow becoming less diverse in their offerings. Thrillist gave Fenway the 19th spot on their ballpark food & drink rankings but noted that there aren’t “a lot of compelling dishes in Beantown’s old ballpark,” crediting the Fenway Frank (a hot dog), as the hero of the culinary lineup. It’s classic, to be sure. It’s also inedible for many people, and nine innings is a long time to sit without a snack.
Fenway also doesn’t allow dogs, while several other ballparks around the league have wonderful Bark in the Park-type days each season. If they don’t field a competitive team next year, the least they can do is let fans bring in their dogs for some entertainment in the stands.
5. The Red Sox need to treat fans with more respect
The overarching issue that encompasses all the above is that the Red Sox need to treat the Fenway Faithful better. Every year, they call Red Sox Nation ‘the best fans in baseball,’ but they certainly don’t seem to hold them in very high regard or appreciate their dedication. More often than not, their public remarks go beyond PR speak; the brass talks as if fans have no idea what’s going on, as if up is down and the sun shines at night.
It’s an insult to fans who are so dialed in. Red Sox Nation is passionate, knowledgeable, and invested, both emotionally and financially. And as a whole, there’s no professional baseball without fans. Networks and streaming platforms won’t pay to license games if there are no viewers. Brands won’t advertise at ballparks or enter into partnerships if there aren’t potential customers for their products. MLB might think they don’t rely on ticket revenue anymore because they make so much money from everything else, but each of its revenue streams exists because there’s an audience to which to market. Fans are the root from which every branch of the money tree grows. If the Red Sox want fans to keep paying for tickets, pricy streaming packages, concessions, and jerseys, they should show them a little more appreciation and gratitude.