Baseball fans from Beantown and the Big Apple are catching their breath after a three-day, four game series between the Red Sox and Yankees. Some call it the greatest rivalry in sports. Perhaps it is.
Regardless of which team you support, it’s clear that both clubs know how to build their fanbase.
The long and storied histories of these two teams are evident to even the most casual fan. The Yankees, winners of 27 World Series, are one of the most success sports franchises; Boston fans are still basking in the glow of their 2004 and 2007 titles.
But these days, the fan experience goes well beyond wins and losses. Many years ago, writing a Master’s thesis on sports marketing, I found that while a winning team boosts attendance, adding to the fan experience goes a long way, too. And that’s something — in addition to fielding competitive teams year after year — the Sox and Yankees do well.
Give a nod to tradition
Few teams in professional sports have a history and tradition that can match these two, and that’s something people want to be part of:
- The “B” and “NY” logos are simple, recognizable, and can be found in every state and many countries. Any attempt to change either would likely bring a groundswell of opposition.
- Boston’s Fenway Park marks its 100th anniversary this year, and the team is pulling out all the stops in a year-long celebration: Fenway 100 hats, multiple books on the park, a dedicated website, and a celebration that brought back hundreds of former players.
- Yankee Stadium was built next to the predecessor it was modeled after, the original Yankee Stadium, the “House that Ruth Built.” Fans in New York begin each game with a Roll Call, chanting the name of every player on the field until he acknowledges the crowd.
Thanks for the memories
These two teams list some of the game’s greatest players, as well as many of the sport’s most memorable moments: Carlton Fisk’s home run in the 1975 World Series, Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech, Yogi Berra embracing Don Larsen after the latter tossed a perfect game in the 1956 Series, etc. These and other great moments are etched in the memory of fans from Eastport, Maine, to Northport, Long Island, and for those too young to remember, they can be seen in television promotions, on the big screen at the game, even on YouTube.
Recalling great moments is a powerful tool, and both of these teams do that well.
Legends played here
In 1941, Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games. That same year, Ted Williams finished the season with a .406 batting average. No player has come close to either mark in the 71 years since. A late boss of mine often spoke of boyhood fights that resulted from the Williams vs. DiMaggio debate. And that was before the arrival of Mickey Mantle.
According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, 23 players whose primary team was the Yankees are in the Hall, including Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest ever to play the game. The Red Sox have 10 former players in the Hall, led by Williams, considered by many to the best hitter of all time.
Both clubs look to add to those numbers with their current and future stars. The banner atop the Yankees website reads “Heroes Remembered. Legends Born,” connecting the past to the present.
Outfielder Darnell McDonald, recently released by the Sox, signed a contract with New York a few days later. In addition to his wardrobe change into Yankee pinstripes, McDonald got a haircut. Appearance matters to the Yankees, and the team has a policy against long hair.
The player most aware of perception may have been the great DiMaggio, who was said to have guarded his image carefully. He was once asked why he played so hard, even when hurt. To paraphrase his reply, “because someone may be seeing me for the first time.”
Think outside the box
As part of an effort to increase the attendance capacity at tiny Fenway Park, Boston’s owners committed an act that was considered sacrilege at the time — putting seats atop the Green Monster, the 37-foot left field wall. Guess what? They’re the hottest seat in the park and among the most difficult to obtain. The Sox added a similar section overlooking right field. Yeah, these seats aren’t cheap, but they are very, very cool.
Speaking of Fenway, the Sox offer tours of the park, for just $12. I went on a cold November afternoon. My group, one of many that day, had well over 100 people. The current owners, more than any in my lifetime, have made the experience fun for fans, with player meet and greets, opportunities to walk on the field, a seat upgrade contest on Twitter, and much more.
When the Yankees moved into the new Stadium, they brought Monument Park, a museum that pays tribute to the greats who have worn pinstripes (another tradition). The Park is open prior to games, but arrive early — the line is very long, and many people (including me) are turned away.