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Red Sox need star power for ratings fix
The Red Sox, among other things, are a television show. And last season, judging from the ratings on the Sox's regional cable network, the show bombed.
If you want to know why the Sox need to re-energize their fan base this offseason, that might be as good a place to start as any.
The front office need not alter its approach; winning is the best form of entertainment. But rest assured, the Red Sox are looking for some new TV stars.
Re-signing free-agent catcher Victor Martinez and third baseman Adrian Beltre, the stated first choices of general manager Theo Epstein, would not be enough.
The Sox must add at least one captivating new talent, be it an outfielder such as Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth in free agency, or Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton or Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in a trade.
At the same time, they'll want to budget strategically so they can pursue one of three potential free agents at first base next offseason — Gonzalez, Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder.
The decline in ratings on the New England Sports Network, of which the Red Sox own 80 percent, is nothing short of a call to action.
For the first time in eight years, the Sox didn't lead the majors in local TV ratings, a major-league source said. They finished tied for fifth, according to figures obtained by FOXSports.com.
The Cardinals had the best local TV ratings, followed by the Twins, Phillies and Reds. The Rays, a low-revenue club with disappointing home attendance, generated the same ratings as the Sox, who show all of their local games on NESN.
The Sox's ratings on NESN fell 36.6 percent from '09 to '10. Only one team, the Cubs, had a larger percentage dropoff on local cable. The Cubs, though, had a less severe decline than the Sox in their 70 over-the-air network games.
While the Red Sox remain a hot ticket at Fenway Park, playing to over 100 percent capacity, their sagging ratings indicate Red Sox Nation is somewhat spoiled by the team's recent success — six postseason appearances in the previous seven years, including two World Series titles.
Injuries contributed heavily to the Sox's failure to make the playoffs last season, but the team still won 89 games. The Sox were plucky and interesting, and several unheralded players proved impressive substitutes. But the team didn't galvanize New England as it had earlier in the decade.
Have the Red Sox become boring? Well, the current team has no Manny, no Pedro, no Johnny Damon. But such personalities are rare in today's game.
Crawford, an electric talent who is quite familiar to Red Sox fans from his days with the Rays, certainly would provide juice, yet is defined mostly by his work ethic. Werth sports a beard, like Damon did in his Boston days, but lacks the same effusiveness. Gonzalez, too, is rather bland.
Upton, 23, is engaging and full of promise. He (or Crawford) could become the team's biggest African-American star since Mo Vaughn, and possibly Jim Rice. But as of Wednesday night, the Sox were on the “back burner” in their trade talks with the Diamondbacks, according to sources.
Again, the first goal is to win; the last thing the Sox should do is slap together a sideshow solely to capture the public's attention. “The Idiots” who won the World Series in 2004 were a one-time phenomenon, a wildly eclectic group that would be impossible to reproduce.
Still, this isn't just sports. This is business. This is entertainment. This is a television show, like it or not.
The show bombed last season. The Sox need to make their product compelling enough for fans to turn on their TVs again.
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