FSG president says Red Sox matches earn more than Liverpool
Fenway keen to build connections with Ireland
AIG Fenway Hurling Classic, Dublin v Galway, in Fenway Park, Boston, last November: “Anything related to Ireland, given the amount of Irish that live here, would make sense for us,” says FSG president Sam Kennedy. Photograph: Ray McManus
The teams are chalk and cheese. Baseball attracts about 73 million people to its games each year, more than all the other major sports in the US combined.
“It’s extremely popular,” Kennedy says in an interview with The Irish Times in Boston recently. The Red Sox have 81 match days a season with a big window between seasons to host other events at Fenway Park.
Baseball games can last three to four hours, more than twice the duration of a soccer game.
In terms of match-day revenues, the Red Sox earn about 10 times what Liverpool achieve and FSG’s experience is that more families are attracted to Fenway than to Anfield.
According to Kennedy, tickets represent about 50 per cent of its revenues – a much higher percentage than at Liverpool.
Sponsorship is “very difficult” for the Red Sox. “There aren’t a lot of companies knocking down our door to get in as a sponsor,” Kennedy explains.
Baseball salaries range from $500,000 a year to $31 million annually; FSG has paid more than $2 billion in wages to its players since taking ownership of the famous Boston club.
By comparison, the best paid footballers might earn £10-£15 million. In English soccer, however, players can be bought and sold for large fees and the television money is substantially higher than in baseball.
Liverpool also enjoys a worldwide following, unlike the Red Sox.
“Also the culture around football . . . you go to the match, you sit in your seat and you watch the match and then you leave,” Kennedy says.
Ticket prices were a bone of contention on Merseyside last season, with Liverpool fans staging protests at FSG’s plans to hike prices at Anfield, eventually forcing its American owners to back down.
“I think that was handled very well in the end by recognising that they needed to change course and adjust.
“In business, you make multiple decisions every single day and you hope you get more right than you get wrong. Changing course and reversing direction is okay in sports.”
Kennedy declines to comment on the Red Sox’s annual revenues but says they are “comparable” to Liverpool’s, which in the year to the end of May 2015 amounted to £298 million.
Although a senior executive with FSG, Kennedy is one step removed from the running of Liverpool. However he says there is a “very positive feeling” at the club around the appointment last season as manager of German Jurgen Klopp, who led the club to two cup finals, albeit losing both.
“But the goal is to win the league and to be playing in the [UEFA] Champions League and that is very clear from John Henry and Tom Werner. Those are the matching orders.”
Kennedy says there is an ownership group of 15 to 16 individuals at FSG with Henry, Werner and Mike Gordon focusing on its day-to-day operations.
Kennedy’s grandfather was from Monaghan and he is keen to forge a connection between Fenway and Ireland, if possible. FSG hosted the Dublin and Galway hurlers in an exhibition game at Fenway Park last November and Kennedy would like to repeat the event.
“It was quite a spectacle,” he says. “My kids were mesmerised by the sport. We would love to do it again.
“We’ve developed a great relationship with the GPA [Gaelic Players Association] and we’re hoping to bring them back this coming fall [autumn] or maybe next fall.
“We would love to establish Fenway Park as the home of hurling in the United States and maybe even help it grow around the US. Once people see the sport live and in person, it’s a great spectacle.”
What about hosting Ireland in a soccer international?
Fenway’s capacity is 37,673, making it the smallest venue in major league baseball. It is also the oldest at 104 years.
FSG has spent $300 million on the stadium over the years and is committed to it for at least a generation.
“I think we will be here for a long, long time,” Kennedy says. “This is a great location.”
Might FSG diversify into other sports?
“I would be enthusiastic about potentially other investments,” Kennedy says.
“Maybe the arena business, I’m a big hockey fan and NBA [basketball], but at this point we’re probably going to spend the next couple of years focused on the Red Sox, Liverpool, the television network and Roush.
“That said, a lot of investment opportunities come along at an unexpected time. The Liverpool investment came along at a very unexpected time.
“So you never know, we have a well capitalised ownership group and if there was the right opportunity we would consider something, but for 2016-17, we’re going to be focused on the entities that we already own.”