Power 2008: The Elements of Influence

MACHINE POWER

Case Study: New England Sports Ventures

For two years now, media critics have been up in arms over the Globe‘s fawning coverage of Red Sox Destinations travel packages, Eagle Destinations travel packages for BC athletics, and, most notably, NASCAR’s Roush Fenway Racing team. All of which are owned by John Henry and company’s New England Sports Ventures (NESV), and by extension the New York Times Company, which — hence the squeals — owns both the Globe and a stake in NESV. "It’s obnoxious," says one local sports industry veteran. "It wouldn’t have happened in the old days." Such gripes miss a crucial fact, though: When you’ve assembled the devastatingly effective machine that Henry has, you get to write your own rules.

Along with the travel packages and the NASCAR team, New England Sports Ventures also encompasses the Red Sox and the team’s marketing arm, Fenway Sports Group, as well as Fenway Park and New England Sports Network. It makes for a ton of leverage, and Henry’s people aren’t shy about using it. For years, they quietly worked to stall developer John Rosenthal’s plans for his Kenmore property, relenting only once his designs were more to their liking (and after they’d acquired a stake in the project). When not busy reshaping the city blocks around the stadium, NESV is jacking up Sox ticket prices — already the priciest in baseball before they went up another 9 percent this year — to scant complaints from the true believers helping to fund the Epsteinian master plan that looks likely to ensure winning teams (and continued hikes) well into the future. In a further demonstration of synergistic prowess, Fenway Sports Group also takes on its own advertising clients, many of whom are already in partnership with the Sox. In the spring of 2005, after longtime Sox advertiser Dunkin’ Donuts hired it to develop a campaign for iced lattes, Fenway Sports Group dreamed up a spot starring Johnny Damon and Theo Epstein that aired in a seemingly endless loop on NESN during games. This spring, it’s Jonathan Papelbon hawking the new line of Dunkin’ flatbread sandwiches and personal pizzas.

With Boston College as another big client, NESV has access not only to New England’s baseball fans, but also to local students. Throw in the NASCAR crowd drawn by Roush Fenway, and John Henry is building a coalition broad enough to support a run for office. If he ever does, he’ll already have his campaign infrastructure in place. —Jason Schwartz

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