Red Sox Brand Takes Hit In Trying October

On Tuesday, new Sox GM Ben Cherington announced that starting pitcher John Lackey, one of the players said to have drank beer in the clubhouse during games, will undergo Tommy John elbow surgery and miss the 2012 season. (AP)

New Sox GM Ben Cherington announced that starting pitcher John Lackey, one of the players said to have drank beer in the clubhouse during games, will undergo Tommy John elbow surgery and miss the 2012 season. (AP)

BOSTON — Despite missing the playoffs, the Red Sox are having a busy October. The team has a new general manager and is looking to replace now-former manager Terry Francona. All this follows a late-season slide and off-field controversy, and leaves questions about a tarnished Sox brand.

Which came first, the fried chicken or the historic, season-ending egg? It’s still up for debate, but since The Boston Globe first reported that some Red Sox starting pitchers drank beer and ate fried chicken in the clubhouse during games, the two events have become intertwined. New GM Ben Cherington says he won’t let the clubhouse drinking controversy define the team.

“I don’t believe that anybody — player, coach, front office, any of you — should be judged on one moment, one episode, one piece of behavior,” Cherington said. “We need to judge people on the body of work.”

The problem is that the Red Sox’ “body of work” also includes blowing a nine-game lead in the American League Wild Card race. Glenn Stout, the author of “Fenway 1912,” says the Red Sox late-season stumbling was reminiscent of the team’s decades as loveable losers, but the image of highly paid athletes drinking beer during games takes fans’ frustrations beyond disappointment.

“There’s just this incredible loyalty to the brand and I don’t think any player could destroy that.”
– Chris Cakebread,
BU advertising professor

“There’s a real betrayal because the difference now than from the past [is] it’s not just like, ‘Oh, you know we spent $10 on a ticket,’ ” Stout said. “‘No, we spent $500 to take the family to Fenway Park and we feel like we were ripped off.’ ”

Kristen Kuliga owns K Sports & Entertainment. The agency’s clients include Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. Kuliga says sports scandals not only impact teams’ images, they affect players’ marketability.

“A lot of companies don’t want to take that risk and be associated with an athlete that has done something,” Kuliga said. “With the Red Sox, however, if I were Popeye’s, I would want to jump all over doing an endorsement.”

Clay Buchholz is one of the players who drank beer during games. In a recent interview with the WEEI Sports Radio Network, the pitcher said he and his teammates recognize that the team’s popularity translates into scrutiny few other franchises experience.

“We’re under a microscope for, everybody says eight months out of the year, but it’s really 12 months out of the year, so… it is what it is,” Buchholz said.

The Red Sox may be used to operating in the spotlight, but Chris Cakebread, a professor of advertising at Boston University’s College of Communication, says the team’s response to the controversy has added to the negative publicity.

“Communications grade is an F because they have absolutely no consistent response,” Cakebread said. “They clearly have not gone and followed the prescribed formula of how they would deal with a negative situation.”

But Cakebread says the Red Sox’ image is simply too strong to be seriously damaged by the occasional polarizing player or controversial incident.

“You’ve had Roger Clemens. You’ve had Manny Ramirez. You’ve got these clowns in the clubhouse drinking beer. They’re individual exceptions to this unbelievably strong sports brand,” he said. “So there’s just this incredible loyalty to the brand and I don’t think any player could destroy that.”

The Red Sox have sold out more than 700 consecutive home games, a Major League Baseball record. Cakebread says the true test of the team’s image is always at the box office.

“It will be fascinating to see in December whether there’s any kind of decline in ticket sales,” he said.

En route to ending the 86-year championship drought, the 2004 Red Sox, also fondly known as “The Idiots,” drank shots of Jack Daniel’s before several postseason games. For winners, a nearly forgotten footnote. For losers, a potential PR nightmare.

Doug Tribou is a reporter and producer for WBUR’s Only A Game, which is heard every Saturday at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

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  • Haroldburbank

    we were ripped off in 2011, on many levels.  if you are are a family sox fan club, like mine, you got ripped off on multiple fenway trips from CT, times $400.  my wife buys all the tickets.  she was (is?)  the lead fan.  spent hours waiting online in FEB getting tics, arranging her schedule to attend games, arranging kids’ schedules so they could go. and what does she get for all that passion, brand loyalty and money?  beer on the bench, in the clubhouse, a fired 8-0 world series manager,  beckett saying in AUG that pitching is not his priority, surly, ineffective john lackey, the biggest bust in sports history and now an MLB investigation of a storied franchise.

    i do not think the sox brand is so invincible it survives this.  the players rubbed their arrogance in the faces of the most loyal fans this year.  the brass can spin this ’til doomsday but good fans are also smart fans used to seeing good or  at least good effort baseball.  but for 4 or 5 players individually, and for about 3 months, the sox did not offer this, leading to scandalous, defamatory  manager scapegoating and firing, the full nature and meaning of which underscored how dysfunctional ‘the brand’ really was and still is, since  there is no evidence the sox get it or really care.  the new gm has already said they will keep the  effete beckett, the sullen lackey, the back of the bench booze, and the epstein-evolved culture sourcing all.

    i have followed the sox for 46 years; played NE ball for over 20.  my grand dad’s noble loser sox were nowhere to be found in 2o11.  does this not mean that the brand not only took a 2011 hit, but consumed to extinction  by its own species?

  • Chris

    He had a good end of the year game. Chris

  • Turcotte

    Dear Mr. Tribou,The thought of this past season’s collapse, along with the ensuing allegations about the beer and fried chicken tarnishing the Red Sox brand is ridiculous. The fans have every right to be upset. This is two years in row the Sox have been watching the Yankees in the postseason. And we’re sick and tired of all of the allegations and excuses. But is this really going to hurt the brand? I doubt it.As you mention, the Sox have sold out over 700 consecutive home games. Over 700. This streak dates back to May 13, 2003 – back to when the Curse of the Bambino was haunting Red Sox Nation, but the tickets still sold. Now that’s loyalty. That’s passion. Sticking by a team that hasn’t won it all in 86 years. Ticket sales won’t be impacted next year. Sure some fans will decide not to spend the money. But do you really think Fenway won’t be packed for every game? No way. We stick by our team through thick and thin. We came back in 2004 after our faith had been tested by Aaron Boone. We stuck around when Manny decided to give up and force his way out of town. We sure as heck won’t let one September slump affect our loyalty to the Sox. Furthermore, come April the brand will be stronger than ever. With all of the headlines, you can’t tell me the collapse didn’t make for an interesting storyline in 2012. We’ll have a first year GM, a new manager, and players back and ready to prove themselves. The Sox search for redemption will be a major focal point for the media and the fans will be back. By then we will have moved on from the collapse and be ready to play ball. We won’t let this collapse affect us because that’s not who we are. We are Red Sox Nation. We love the players, but above all we love the team. And we always will. So come next season look for me at Fenway. I’ll be sitting in the bleachers with my Lester jersey on, sipping a beer and eating some chicken fingers with the rest of the Fenway faithful. Because that’s what we are, faithful.Best,Alex Turcotte

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