The Sox PR Mess-Up: When too much brand-building can be bad for business

Fenway Park
It used to feel so special, being a Sox fan and all.  Perpetual disappointment, missed bedtimes, Pedro’s Jheri curls.  My dad used to say we were the best fans in sports, and I felt it.  I felt it when we lost in the run-up to the World Series in 2003; only to win our first in 86 years the next season. 

But now?  Not so much.

If I was to tell you that a sales and marketing agency owned a baseball franchise, the most successful soccer club in history, and the face of the NBA, you would think success should come easy.  Well that’s not the case for Fenway Sports Group, whose recent acquisitions of “Lebron James” and “Liverpool FC” are leaving a bad taste in the mouths of their bread-and-butter client, the Fenway faithful.

When the group acquired the Boston Red Sox, their main goal was to rid Beantown of its 86-year championship drought.  The tough task was met with a brilliant PR campaign, which many know better as “Red Sox Nation.”  The owners probably couldn’t have imagined the rise in popularity, as people from all over the world began to adopt the unique fervor of Red Sox Nation.  People were allowed to purchase “citizen” cards, and Fenway Park began its record-setting “sellout streak.”

After two championships, Red Sox fans had a lot to cheer about and the team couldn’t have done it without their support. 

But how do the owners repay their fan-base?  By buying a soccer team and rights to arguably one of the most disliked athletes in Boston.  All the money in the world can’t replace the most unique B2C relationship in all of sports, yet FSG continues to throw their financial success in the face of their most successful asset. 

So what has come of this campaign and the recent business ventures by the Red Sox ownership?

The result is simple: mediocrity. Keeping caddies and driving ranges in business, the team finished third in the division, missing the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 2007.  And this past offseason, in attempts to relieve their fans’ disdain, the Sox spent more money than any team in the offseason, acquiring two players within two days that cost over $300 million (reminds you of a familiar foe, no?). It's no wonder that last year NESN television (also owned by FSG) saw its “worst overall ratings” in years.

Maybe I should have expected that Red Sox Nation would become just another pot on the executive stove.  But when a PR campaign relies on the dedication of its customers, the latter must be reassured that the product at hand is a priority.  Otherwise, no one could afford a hundred dollar balcony seat, a nine dollar draft beer, or better yet, 86 more years of agony and defeat.

So as the money continues to pour out of Fenway Park, and the Red Sox look to right the ship on their 0-7 start of 2011, I ask you one simple question: is Red Sox Nation in need of a revolution?  I think Bostonians know a thing or two about that.

Contributed by Bob McCarthy.  Follow him @bobbymccaaathy

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