By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox obviously want to win championships, and they often spend the money needed to make them happen. But ask chairman Tom Werner, and he’ll tell you that the Red Sox’ exorbitant spending would not be possible without the team’s endless bludgeoning of its own fans with sales and marketing gimmicks.
Werner and principal owner John Henry spoke to reporters in a joint press conference in Fort Myers on Friday, touching on a number of big-picture issues regarding the Red Sox and Major League Baseball at-large. Werner did say some good things that would make any baseball fan excited about the future of MLB’s on-field product. But in typical Werner fashion, he couldn’t avoid making the same old references to the business side of the Red Sox that have made him one of the region’s more insufferable sports executives since 2002 when he took over the team – or, in his case, the TV show.
Werner’s quest to turn Fenway into more of an amusement park than a ballpark continues to churn along, as is his general focus on improving the business. At this point, it’s no shock that he still views a good baseball team that wins championships as more of a byproduct of maximizing profits, rather than the other way around.
“We are focused on revenues because they allow us to have a strong club every year,” said Werner. “And we’re focused on the fan experience and we’re focused on how to bring kids to Fenway and how to make the experience enjoyable and how to improve the ballpark every year.”
Werner can’t seriously believe that Red Sox Nation would buy the “allows us to have a strong club” part. Maybe some percentage of the population would, but most fans would never agree that the team absolutely needs every last dollar pilfered from them in every way imaginable in order for the owners to afford to field a winning ballclub. Werner’s almost cartoonish obsession with driving revenues appears to be as strong as ever.
The Red Sox chairman did, however, make some expansive comments on the issue of pacing in baseball games that could give fans a more optimistic purview of where the major-league product is going. Werner, a member of baseball’s Competition Committee, touched on some ideas that would certainly tighten games up in an era where simply too much time goes by where nothing happens. But he still managed to slather his comments in eyeroll-inducing sales-speak.
“We are always looking to make the game more crisp,” said Werner. “We’re focused on shortening the amount of time for an instant replay – nobody would call it ‘instant’ right now – but we have a directive now to [the replay center in] New York to see if all calls can be within two minutes and we have a directive to make sure that the manager decides [to challenge calls] or not within 30 seconds.
“We’re trying to push the game to be under three hours. … Hopefully we’ll make improvements to keep the game as crisp as it can be.”
The full quote was truncated to remove at least one more reference to making the game more “crisp.” Like a crisp April afternoon that you can spend just shoveling your money into the Fenway furnace for hours on end.
Werner really induced migraines when he was asked about the excessive TV commercials that are poisoning broadcasts across sports. Believe it or not, Werner is in favor of reducing commercials – but his reasoning for it has little to do with the overall satisfaction of the fans.
“I think [reducing commercials] is a good idea,” said Werner. “I’d be for less commercial breaks because I think that increases the ratings, so in the end I think it’s a good idea.”
Werner and TV ratings are certainly a healthy marriage.
It’s not that everything Werner said here is untrue or isn’t geared in any way toward making fans happier. But they don’t really speak to the most important thing to the majority of Red Sox fans, and that’s the team on the field. Reducing commercials would certainly improve the TV ratings, but that would be like consuming empty calories. At the end of the day, if Werner wants his revenues and ratings to go up, then the baseball team needs to win more.
To be fair, Werner isn’t someone who should worry about baseball things – but unfortunately, the longtime TV producer still looks at the Red Sox like his favorite show rather than a baseball team. He still has his idea of improving the team annoyingly backward. The problem is that it could eventually get in the way of winning, like it did when he infamously told Terry Francona that the Red Sox need to “start winning in more exciting ways.”
The Red Sox look to have a top contender in the American League this season, so increased ratings and revenue could be in the near future anyway and it’s possible that everyone ends up happy.
But now more than ever, Werner’s priorities remain in the wrong places – and fans still have to worry about them hurting the team in the end.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.