Red Sox ownership’s latest reported venture could be what’s affected team spending

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 26: Chairman of the Boston Red Sox Tom Werner and principle owner John Henry walk on the field before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on June 26, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 26: Chairman of the Boston Red Sox Tom Werner and principle owner John Henry walk on the field before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on June 26, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images) /

Fenway Sports Group reportedly has its eye on the prize.

Unfortunately, the prize in question has nothing to do with the Boston Red Sox.

Basketball has always been on principal owner John Henry’s mind. Before buying the Sox, he spent the 1990s negotiating to purchase the Orlando Magic, Miami Heat, and New Jersey Nets, as well as several MLB and NHL expansion teams. He bought a small interest in the New York Yankees in 1991, then purchased the Florida Marlins in 1999, and sold the club in January 2002 in order to purchase the Red Sox.

When John Henry and his partners purchased the Sox, Fenway Park, and 80% of New England Sports Network (NESN) in February 2002, their group, then known as New England Sports Ventures, spent $660M. At the time, that was more than double the price paid for any other team in MLB history.

In the two decades since this historic deal, what soon became known as Fenway Sports Group has expanded its portfolio to include real estate, RFK Racing, Liverpool FC and its home, Anfield Stadium, stake in LeBron James’ marketing and branding rights, the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL (after first trying to purchase the Boston Bruins), the Sox’ High-A affiliate Salem Red Sox, a percentage of their Triple-A affiliate Worcester Red Sox, and the new MGM Music Hall, which recently opened outside Fenway Park.

Fenway Sports Group reportedly favored to bring NBA expansion team to Las Vegas

In the last two years, FSG has been linked to the Minnesota Timberwolves and took a look at the Phoenix Suns in light of disgraced Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury owner Robert Sarver putting them up for sale. As of this week, billionaire Matt Ishbia will be purchasing the pair of Arizona NBA and WNBA teams for a reported $4 billion. Meanwhile, FSG is now considered the frontrunner to bring an NBA expansion team to Las Vegas, an endeavor that will cost them billions.

Under FSG’s ownership, the Red Sox have won four championships in fifteen years, more than any other team this century. Liverpool has added another UEFA Champions League title and English League Championship to their trophy case, as well as the first English Premier League Championship and their first English Championship in 30 years.

Winning has paid off. By December 2013, FSG surpassed $1 billion in global consolidated revenue. Earlier this year, Forbes ranked FSG as the third most valuable sports empire in the world, with a valuation of $9.81B. Boston’s beloved baseball team saw a 13% increase in valuation over the year before. While the Yankees ($6B) are valued higher than any other MLB team and the Red Sox ($3.9B) come in third, FSG has blown past Yankee Global Enterprises; the Steinbrenner family’s conglomerate ranked sixth in the world with a $6.81B valuation.

But their aspirations on the global sports stage appear to be coming at the cost of one of the most important sports teams in history, their very first one. Purchasing and investing in the Red Sox is the root from which the FSG billions tree grew, but it no longer seems to be a priority. In 2022, Fenway Park saw its worst attendance in any 162-game season since 2000. The roster has since lost most of the marquee players fans wanted to see, leaving them less inclined to pay for the ballpark experience. Meanwhile, ownership has been in the headlines about a potential Liverpool sale, a possible bid for the NFL’s Washington Commanders, and links to various NBA teams; the only time they’re in the headlines about the Red Sox is when they’re being criticized for no longer seeming involved.

Instead of displaying any concern for the state of the club and its fans, the Red Sox are actually raising ticket prices for the upcoming season. Ownership hasn’t sat down in front of the media since the Mookie Betts trade of February 2020. They maintain their involvement, but their absence, coupled with their resistance to locking in homegrown stars to long-term deals and their focus on other ventures, tells the real story.

Ownership likely feels that by resurrecting the franchise and ending an 86-year drought, plus three additional championships and millions in renovations on MLB’s oldest ballpark, they’ve gone above and beyond what they came to Boston to do. Of course, fans are grateful; they’ve done their own part in all of this, paying ever-increasing prices for games, concessions, and apparel year after year.

But this isn’t a game of Monopoly; players, employees, and fans are affected by ownership’s apparent distraction and disregard. If FSG is truly moving on to the next several things, they’d be better off selling the team to someone who wants to safeguard and nurture it back to prominence. No amount of championships gives them the right to let one of the premiere, historic sports franchises in the world sink to such abyssal lows as it has in the last few years.

If FSG won’t make Rafael Devers an offer he can’t refuse, but are prepared to shell out at least ten times more to build an NBA team from nothing, let their actions speak louder than their empty words.