The Red Sox may have won two of the last four World Series, but as a business, the franchise has two strikes against it: the smallest ballpark in the Majors and one of the highest payrolls. At Fenway Park, every home game has sold out since 2003, leaving little opportunity to boost sales.
"We need to be creative," says Mike Dee, the team's COO. "We're not building a new ballpark à la the Yankees." So in 2004, he launched Fenway Sports Group (FSG), a marketing subsidiary of Sox parent New England Sports Ventures that creates new businesses based on the team's relationships.
The Sox are now drawing revenue — more than $200 million a year, sources say — from Nascar, pop music, and even the New York Yankees. And because most of the work doesn't involve the team, nearly all of the new income falls outside the league's revenue-sharing agreement. "We turned a profit in year one," Dee says.
It's a tough act for most teams to follow — they're focused on filling seats. But "teams are keeping an eye on [FSG]," says Joe Giles, the Philadelphia Phillies' director of business development. "I like their aggressiveness."
Boston College was FSG's first client. After BC joined the Atlantic Coast Conference, FSG launched a citywide marketing campaign. Since then, it has expanded BC coverage on the New England Sports Network, brought the 2009 ACC baseball tourney to Fenway, and tripled BC sponsorships.
Fanfoto was FSG's first startup. Photographers at Fenway would snap shots of fans, who then ordered prints and calendars through the team's Web site. Eventually, FSG began expanding the service (currently, to 21 MLB, NBA, NHL, and college teams), and last year, it sold 80% of the business to SharpShooter Imaging.
Last year, to help its clients the Celtics and the Bruins boost attendance, FSG arranged postgame concerts by artists such as Akon. The events sell tickets, but also more food and merchandise. That success led to a deal with Verizon for a 15-college concert tour.
FSG proved so adept at selling online ads for the Red Sox Web site that MLB Advanced Media contracted it to do the same for other teams — even the Yankees. So, yes, when New York fans visit yankees.com, they're indirectly paying the enemy
Red Sox Destinations offered $5,000 packages to Boston's opener in Japan, featuring a chartered 747 and a meet and greet with players. FSG has organized previous trips to New York and Baltimore. An offshoot does trips for BC.
FSG's 50% purchase last year of Nascar's biggest team (now called Roush Fenway Racing) has been the biggest moneymaker yet, thanks in part to Carl Edwards, who won the Busch Series. FSG snagged Citi Financial as the biggest sponsor and brought in Turner Sports to sell exclusive footage online.
In addition to selling sponsorships of the PGA's Deutsche Bank Championship, FSG organizes golf outings for clients at PGA-caliber courses and private clubs, such as Winged Foot and Newport Country Club. The company also represents three pros, including LPGA star Karrie Webb.
FSG operates as a full-service sports marketing company, a small-scale version of powerhouse IMG. More than a dozen clients — including Ritz-Carlton and Dunkin' Donuts (remember Johnny Damon and Theo Epstein hawking iced lattes?) — hire FSG to strategize how to market through sports
A version of this article appeared in the April 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.