Fenway ready for soccer match

Fenway ready for soccer match

BOSTON -- It's just past noon, and fans are lining up along YawkeyWay to get into Fenway Park. First pitch is seven hours away, butthat's not really an issue because this Boston Red Sox game, like the 597 before it, is sold out.These fans are waiting to tour the ballpark, paying 12 apiece to see the Green Monster without Ted Williams or Yaz or even Daniel Navapatrolling the grass in front. In all, almost 350,000 people will passthrough the turnstiles this year without seeing a baseball game.Theoldest ballpark in the major leagues, Fenway is approaching its 100thbirthday with what could be its busiest year ever, starting on NewYear's Day with the NHL Winter Classic and continuing on Wednesdaynight with "Football at Fenway," a soccer match between European clubsGlasgow Celtic and Sporting Lisbon.In addition, there areconcerts and college and minor-league baseball games and, of course, 81regular-season Red Sox games, with the potential for more in theplayoffs."We think Fenway Park is a great place to go in thesummer with the kids," said Sam Kennedy, the Red Sox executive vicepresident and chief operating officer. "We're in the business ofselling the brand of baseball, but the soccer crowd is an opportunityfor 30,000 new people to experience Fenway Park."Since theownership group led by John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino boughtthe team in 2002, the Red Sox have given Fenway a total makeover,putting seats atop the Green Monster, turning Yawkey Way into a plazagame days and modernizing the ballpark in hundreds of other ways fromwaterproofing to wheelchair accessibility.During that span, theballclub has also won two World Series and reached the playoffs in allbut two seasons while selling out every game since May 15, 2003 -- arecord streak that reached 600 on Sunday.The success on and offthe field left them looking for other ways to expand their business.And they quickly realized that the most underutilized asset they hadwas the "lyric little bandbox of a ballpark" that was christened thesame week in 1912 that the Titanic sank."Immediately after wegot here, we recognized that there was this great facility sitting hereyear-round that we controlled and operated," said Kennedy, who alsoserves as president of the business spinoff Fenway Sports Group. "Wehave the luxury of looking at new opportunities because our corebusiness is so strong. But we never take our focus away from the corebusiness."They have tried concerts, starting with BruceSpringsteen in 2003 and also including groups like The Rolling Stonesand, next month, Aerosmith. They have brought in their minor leagueaffiliates for a "Futures at Fenway" date, hosted the Cape Cod LeagueAll-Star Game and turned the field over to the local colleges in theBaseball Beanpot.Things took off with the Winter Classic, whichused Fenway as a picturesque backdrop for the outdoor game between theBoston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Red Sox added a collegehockey game between archrivals Boston College and Boston University --the two most recent NCAA champions; the rink was also opened up forpublic skating and rented out to local teams."Pulling off thatevent gave us the courage to talk about other non-baseball events,"Kennedy said recently over lunch in a restaurant that has been builtinside the ballpark's walls.This year's Red Sox schedule leftFenway empty for most of July, including a 10-game West Coast road tripthat the ballclub began on Monday night in Oakland. Kennedy spent muchof the spring trying to woo top European soccer teams to Boston, hopingto capitalize on an anticipated World Cup bump in interest.Heeventually landed Sporting and Celtic for the 19th soccer game playedon the Fenway field -- the first since Pele brought Brazil's Santos in1968 to play the Boston Beacons of the North American Soccer League.Celtic played at Fenway Park in 1931, when it was defeated by the New York Yankees of the American Soccer League.OnTuesday, the field had been laid out over the baseball diamond, withthe goals along the third-base line and in front of the baseballbullpens in right field. Sod had been placed over the infield dirt andwhere the pitcher's mound would be.More than 30,000 tickets havebeen sold for Wednesday night's match, helped by the strong draw fromthe Portuguese community around New England. Corporate sponsorshipshave also been strong, Kennedy said."It was a big risk: Socceris not Bruce Springsteen; it's not the Winter Classic," he said. "Froman artistic perspective, obviously a sellout crowd would be great. Butnot everything needs to be a sellout to be a success."-- The Associated Press