In its 104th year, Fenway Park looks beautiful. The old charm is still there, mixed with a pleasant blend of modern amenities. This is still one of the most cherished buildings in America, with a meaning that transcends sports. But as a fifth generation enjoys the ballpark on Yawkey Way, what does the future hold for Fenway Park, especially with regard to capacity?
Since buying the Red Sox in 2001, John Henry and Tom Werner have been tremendous keepers of the flame. They took some time to survey the situation—even kicking the tires on a new stadium—before making a commitment to preserving Fenway Park in 2005. Under their guidance, the park has become integral to the Red Sox’ brand. New seats, scoreboards and facilities have improved the game day experience. In total, ownership has spent over $300 million renovating Fenway, which has stood the test of time.
Is Fenway Park too Small?
Baseball stadiums are becoming bigger and more sophisticated. While certain designs have failed to impress, such as the new Yankee Stadium, others have inspired awe, such as the new Busch Stadium. Even venerable Wrigley Field has finally succumbed to modernity, following the lead of Fenway Park, its ancient rival. But even after extensive restoration, the Boston bandbox is still only capable of seating the sixth-smallest crowd in MLB. That doesn’t mesh well with one of the largest and most loyal fan bases in sports. Almost every game is a sellout, making for an intimate experience; expanding capacity at Fenway Park should be seriously considered moving forward.
Right now, Henry and Werner are doing exactly that with Liverpool, the British soccer club they own. Anfield, their home stadium, has a great tradition within that sport, similar to Fenway. Nevertheless, ownership has begun work to expand capacity from 45,500 to 59,000. The first phase will be completed this summer, as a new grandstand is assembled. Perhaps if that proves to be successful, Henry and Werner could look to implement a similar vision at the 37,949 seat Fenway Park.
The Future of Fenway Park
Of course, its impossible to debate the future of Fenway without first invoking its past. This is a sacred ballpark that will be defended vehemently by traditionalist who oppose all but necessary alterations. I understand and respect that. Fenway Park has a unique place in the history of sports that should never be damaged. Yet if the park can be improved to further fit the modern world, I’m incredibly supportive of that, too. For instance, I’d love to see another tier added to Fenway This would allow the Red Sox to reap commercial benefits and more fans to enjoy a contemporary stadium experience if they so choose. Those additions need not replace the rustic charisma and history of Fenway Park. They would merely compliment it, and help the ballpark remain relevant well into another century.
In 2011, when the main bulk of renovations were completed, ownership suggested that Fenway could stand for another fifty years. That’s great news that should be welcomed by fans who’ve mourned the loss of so many beloved ballparks down the years. However, in a world of improving technology and growing expectations, it would be irresponsible to ignore possible ways of making the ballpark fit for purpose in those decades ahead. Expanding capacity and providing more modern infrastructure in addition to the historic foundations is one area to possibly explore, as Fenway reaches a crossroads.