Rubin: Where Do We Go From Here?

The Boston Bruins celebrated their sixth Stanley Cup championship, but one has to wonder, are they the next version of the Red Sox?

By Dan Rubin 

The Boston Red Sox World Series championship in 2004 transformed a franchise and its fan-base. The lovable losers who endured heartbreak after heartbreak, year after year, became the toast of the town, the best of the best, and the indomitable champions. Their players were rock stars, their swagger unmatched, and their run so historic, it was unprecedented.

It was also the last day of the Red Sox I knew and loved. It was the last day of true blue, die-hard Red Sox fans who went to the games and kept scorecards. It became the dawning of a new era, one where the Boston Red Sox threatened to become more of a tourist attraction than an actual sports franchise.

So now, I ask the Boston Bruins to look at the Boston Red Sox and avoid this happening to them.

In 2004, the concept of “Red Sox Nation” hadn’t quite existed. We didn’t call it that, at least. We had legions of Red Sox fans, smarting from the heartbreak of 2003. The offseason was so hot, with both New York and Boston loading up on talent, with a war of words coming from both sides, that sniping took place from everywhere. It ratcheted up the intensity of the 162-game season, as every day seemed to anticipate the two teams meeting in the American League Championship Series. It became a 12-month odyssey drama, where fans from both sides waited with baited breath for the inevitable rematch.

That’s the way it had to be.  It was so intense that it engulfed baseball. Every game against any opponent became the Red Sox hating the Yankees and vice-versa. When they played each other, the games were 4-hour marathons that soured our very being, as we obsessed over every pitch and agonized over every at-bat.

When the Red Sox won, we celebrated with the euphoria of the previous 12 months. Never before had one calendar year given us the drama of the previous 100-plus years of baseball. Under the bright lights, Red Sox fans rejoiced with the epic comeback that exorcised our demons, finally and eventually making St. Louis a footnote to the breaking of the Curse.

I occasionally pop in my DVD from that season and go back to that moment. I occasionally think back to the day when I ate and slept with the Red Sox. And I think back to when the team had character, its players were human, and its fan base rich with baseball knowledge and appetite. But, unfortunately, those days are long gone, and I don’t know if we can ever really get back to them.

You see – the Boston Red Sox, now in their 7th season since that championship, morphed from a team of human players and hungry fans to a team of stale players without personality and a fan base that’s morose with “fair-weather-ness.”  The Red Sox tickets are ridiculously overpriced, their concessions expensive, and they went from being a cultivation of baseball tradition to a cultivation of the term we all have come to hate – “pink hat.”

A “pink hat fan” is the fan that isn’t afraid to spend $400 or more to enjoy a night at the ballpark. The pink hat fan makes sure to be out extra early from work or go into town extra early for the game.  The pink hat fan goes to a bar beforehand and becomes intoxicated at someplace that’s cliché – like The Cask and Flagon. The pink hat fan goes to the game in the 3rd inning, goes to the wrong section, stands in front of about 25 people trying to figure out where the seat is, then eventually sits down in the 4th.  During that period, the pink hat fan has gone to the beer line twice, making sure to get the two-beer selling max that Fenway imposes.  By the time the 7th inning rolls around, the pink hat is sufficiently hammered, making a fool out of himself or herself, and not paying attention to the game.  The pink hat fan, if a female screams her head off for Jacoby Ellsbury or Dustin Pedroia, yet has no idea what position they play, even though it’s on the scoreboard behind their bleacher seat.  And the pink hat fan can’t wait for the 8th inning, when he or she can stand up and drunkenly croon “Sweet Caroline.”  They’re probably leaving early so they can get a good seat at a bar for postgame shenanigans, stumbling home in the early morning hours before waking up and proclaiming the day before to be the “BEST…DAY…EVAH!”

Milan Lucic celebrates with the fans of Boston!

The pink hat fan is the ultimate enemy to a fan who stuck with his or her team through thick and thin.  What’s worse is that you can’t stop the pink hat from infiltrating your fan base because ticket prices don’t know identities. Ticket agencies like Stubhub and Ace Ticket don’t check your fandom at the gate, and the organizations’ ticket box office don’t either. The more people that cram into a game is the better for both the ticket office and the resale agencies, because demand drives ticket prices up, and higher demand drives more demand further up.

Let me explain.

Back in 2000, the average ticket price at Fenway was $28.33.  That price was a 17% increase from 1999.  This was during the height of the Pedro Martinez era, but it was still during a time when the Red Sox were failing to qualify regularly for the playoffs. By the time the Red Sox unveiled their 2004 champions banner on Opening Day 2005, the average ticket price was up to $44.56. In five years. That’s an almost 65% increase from the 2000 sales price.  In 2005, by the way, the Major League average for a ticket price was a shade over $21, and the 2003 World Series Champion Florida Marlins had an average price of $15.55.

Yet the Red Sox kept selling out game after game as people went scouring for tickets. Resale organizations like Ace and Stubhub allowed for legal scalping, and it became common to see ticket prices reach in excess of $150 for a day game against Cleveland.  New York Yankee games saw ticket prices climb over the $300 for bleacher seats, as people didn’t put a value on going to a game. It was the place to be seen; the clothing to wear, and the pricing reflected that. But, in the midst of all of this, the die-hard fan, the one who truly wanted to watch the game, got priced out.

From 1990-2001, I went to at least one Red Sox game per season (I have the ticket stubs to prove it).  We used to be able to decide that we wanted to go into the game, get tickets the day of at the box office, and enjoy an afternoon at Fenway watching the Red Sox. We did this for the first time when the Texas Rangers were in town, and I vividly remember Roger Clemens pitching against Nolan Ryan. It was a family outing and a way for my dad, who had just stopped working two jobs, to spend time with his family. It became almost a rite of tradition that one day over the summer, we would pile into the car from Cape Cod and make the drive to Fenway to sit in the stadium and watch the Red Sox.

After 2001, though, I stopped going to games. I didn’t attend a Red Sox game again until 2005, when I went as part of a contingent representing the Cape Cod Baseball League. And even then, I got the ticket for free, and the opponent was the Kansas City Royals. I occasionally checked prices for games, but the Fenway box office was usually sold out and the online retailers were far too expensive for my collegiate checkbook.

From that 2005 season, I sensed something was different.  And that something became what I’ve noticed every time I’ve gone since that year – the fan base at the game and the atmosphere was totally different.  I used to walk up to Yawkey Way, get a sausage, and go into the game. Now Yawkey Way is a Fan-Fest. I used to go into the Twins Enterprises souvenir store to go shopping; now it’s blocked off as part of the Fan-Fest. I used to go to a game and keep the scorecard based off what I saw, cheering the players the whole time. It’s now about High Definition video boards that tell me how to score it, and beer being dumped on me while I’m trying to. And, the worst part of all – the 7th inning stretch and “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” has been replaced with that obnoxious screaming of “Root root root for the RED SOX” and the 8th inning Sweet Caroline drunken karaoke.

So where am I going with all of this? Why am I complaining about going to Fenway Park? And, more importantly – what does this have to do with the Boston Bruins?

Well, I’m venting about the majority of the Red Sox Nation, for one.  This whole concept turned into a cash cow that now makes going to a game seem like a carnival more so than a baseball game.  And people from out of town want to go to a game for the antics more so than the fact there’s an actual baseball game on display.  That makes me thumb my nose, and it really bothers me that I love the game of baseball, and save for once a year when I go to a game and get annoyed by pink hat fans, I’ve been reduced to watching this team on television.

Secondly, I don’t want the Boston Bruins to turn into the pink skate brigade. It follows the pattern – the first championship in forever, an exciting game led by a bunch of characters, and the team that we love reinventing itself. Nothing compares to the 2004 Red Sox, especially in their popularity, but city officials projected the same amount of people to go to the Bruins parade as who went to the Red Sox parade.

I don’t want, in four years, to go to a Bruins game and be repulsed at what I see.  I don’t want Zombie Nation to become Sweet Caroline. I don’t want Brad Marchand to become Jacoby Ellsbury. And I don’t want the TD Garden to become like Fenway Park, with overpriced tickets, even further overpriced concessions, and players who don’t have as much character as their predecessors.

The Bruins are champions, and I feel vindicated. Like Red Sox fans in my age group (and in my brothers’ age group), I feel so emotionally relieved and euphoric over the trophy coming home. Daily emails about hockey and hundreds of hockey games later, I feel the same way my dad did in 1970 and 1972. I’m so proud of the Boston Bruins, and I’m so proud to be a Boston Bruins fan-base.

I just don’t want that to change.

3 thoughts on “Rubin: Where Do We Go From Here?

  1. Andy June 19, 2011 / 3:16 PM

    The entire Red Sox fan base does not consist of pink-hatters. While you single out one of the most storied institutions in all of sports, you forget how things changed for the New England Patriots once they began winning and the Boston Celtics. The moment the Celtics iced down Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen you could barely dream of getting a ticket to the Garden, especially at a reasonable price.
    Sports fans have seen the same thing in any league for generations. The New York Yankees did not enter the postseason from 1982-1994, yet as soon as they Won the Series in 1996, the fanbase became insatiable. This would be one of the more glaring examples of what you try to convey.
    I understand you’re relating this back to the Boston fanbase, and I see what you speak of every time I go to Fenway (minimum once a year since 2001) and every time I hear some moron ask why Kevin Youkilis is being booed. Yet if you’re going to relate this phenomenon back to the Boston fanbase, remember that this pink hatter brigade has infiltrated every New England professional team to this point. I was at the parade yesterday as well, and one would be sorely mistaken to think every fan there was a dedicated Bruins fan. From what I witnessed, most simply used it as an excuse to get hammered at 10 in the morning. I see these “fans” at the majority of Patriots games I go to. I see these “fans” wearing their Garnett jerseys outside of the garden, most of whom never attended a game before KG came to town.
    You may not like baseball, and that’s ok. But refrain from singling out the lifeblood of Boston, a franchise that while historically maligned, has collected one of the single most dedicated fan-bases since the inception of the team.
    And yet I wonder about the Boston pink hat phenomenon at times, as no Boston team won a championship (or came even close) from 1986 (Boston Celtics) to 2001 (New England Patriots). While I have no doubt that many pink hatters are prevalent in Beantown, many of the teams in between (or all of them at one point or another) were so God awful their seasons would be over two years in advance. Part of me wonders if the collective Boston fanbase isn’t using this decade to make up for the last two…
    I also worry greatly about a franchise as classic as the Bruins using techno every time is scores a goal and has its dedicated fanbase use the word “classic” to describe it. Zombie Nation has, in essence, become Sweet Caroline, whether B’s fans would like to admit it or not.

  2. Dan June 20, 2011 / 9:00 AM

    The difference is that I absolutely love the Red Sox. Baseball has been in my life longer than anything, but going to a Red Sox game used to be about going and living the dream of watching baseball. Nothing made me happier. Now, if I want to go, I have to refinance my house and car, take out a bank loan and be torture for 2 hours. I love the Red Sox, but going to their games absolutely drive me batty. I’m not saying I’m rooting against them – far from it. I’m just saying that the Boston fan base has been predominantly terrible.

    I agree wholeheartedly about the Patriots and Celtics. I went to a Celtics game and sat floor seats against Milwaukee two years ago… and promptly sat next to a woman who was knitting the whole time and behind three girls who were screaming their heads off for Kendrick Perkins, yelling to bring him back into the game after he fouled out. Maybe I’m just jaded at this point, but there is a larger cross-section of Boston fans that have infiltrated the die-hard fan base than we ever care to admit.

    The Red Sox are the lifeblood because of the pink hat brigade. It’s the central focal point of our sports livelihood because without it, both die-hard and pink hats wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. But that just makes it larger publicly than the Celtics and Patriots.

    I actually turned to my girlfriend (a die-hard fan who is actually a die-hard fan) and said on Saturday, “How many of these people actually went to games?” And all she could say was, “Just enjoy the moment…” because she knew what I said was true.

    It’s a sad state of affairs. As a fan, I’d hate to be priced out on stubhub from midweek hockey games because people need an excuse to get hammered. But it’s definitely not limited to just the Bruins.

  3. sean June 20, 2011 / 10:35 AM

    I hate to say it, but it has already happened. We have already lost our beloved Bruins. It was slowly beginning during the ECF’s As a season ticket holder and someone who has attended every home Bruins game for the past 4 years, I’d like to think I have a good idea what a Bruins crowd is like. I had the conversation with my brother in law as we walked to our seats for game 7 vs TB and we passed countless people you could tell were there for a social event not for a game. And for game 7 of the finals as I stood in a crowded bar and ate a meal standing up 2 hrs before game time because the tables were filled with groups of girls who knew nothing about hockey. I remembered just a few months back going to that same bar mid week of a regular season game, I had to ask for the TV to be changed to the game. As my friends and I poured beer over our heads in celebration and those same groups of girls remained motionless watching us in horror as we celebrated, I realized the bruins would never be the same.
    Now every car on the highway has added the Bruins sticker to their collection of the local teams. I even saw a dude wearing one of those stupid skin tight shirts with the fake Bruins tattoos on it. Now I know I wasn’t just crying out of pure joy of victory when they won, I was also shedding a tear for the death of te team I used to love

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