From soybeans to baseball, Henry has had success
BOSTON (AP) — John W. Henry took a backward ballclub in a dilapidated park and transformed it into a two-time World Series champion that is one of baseball’s model franchises.
As the owner of The Boston Globe, he will try to turn around a newspaper that — like many other major metro dailies — is shedding staff, subscribers and advertisers as it makes the transition into the Internet age.
Henry agreed to buy the Globe along with the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and the Boston Metro for $70 million, a fraction of the $1.1 billion The New York Times Co. paid 20 years ago. Henry apparently made this deal without his Red Sox partners, though he said in a statement that more information will soon be available “concerning those joining me in this community commitment and effort.”
The son of southern Illinois soybean farmers now worth an estimated $1.5 billion, Henry was a minority owner of the New York Yankees and the sole owner of the Florida Marlins when he led a group that bought the Red Sox for $660 million in 2002. (The original group included The New York Times, which sold the last of its 17.5 percent ownership last year.)
They soon set out to preserve Fenway Park while taking a wrecking ball to most everything else that had mired the franchise in failure for more than eight decades.
Henry, who made his money by taking a mathematical approach to the commodities markets, brought a similar method to the baseball diamond, hiring the statistically savvy Theo Epstein, then 28 years-old, as the youngest general manager in baseball history. They hired statistical pioneer Bill James as a consultant, putting the Red Sox at the forefront of the revolution that had just begun to take hold in front offices long dominated by old-time and hidebound scouting types.
But, perhaps more importantly, the new owners turned what had long been a stagnant family business into a revenue spigot.
They took NESN, which had been almost exclusively an outlet for Red Sox and Boston Bruins games, into a full-fledged sports network. (Not every effort — like the sports-themed dating show “Sox Appeal” — was a success.) And they spent more than $285 million turning the once-doomed Fenway Park into a modern — well, as modern as a 100-year-old ballpark can be, anyway — sporting venue.
With seats above the Green Monster and a roof deck in right field, a high-tech scoreboard and new concourses and concessions, Fenway sold out 820 consecutive games — by official count, anyway — the longest such streak in professional sports history. Thousands more file through the turnstiles 12 months a year, paying up to $16 just to see the park when it is empty.
Though fans sometimes chafed at the team’s new businesslike approach, the initiatives helped pay for a player payroll that grew from $75.5 million in 2000 to more than $130 million by 2004. That year, the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years, ending one of the longest title droughts in sports.
They won again three years later.
Henry was also a different kind of owner than Bostonians had grown accustomed to.
While most owners of the local franchises had treated their teams like family fiefdoms or corporate cash registers — or both — Henry engaged with fans, chatting with them on Internet message boards (he would also became an early adopter on Twitter). He spent less time in his luxury box and more in his dugout-side seats, and was once seen running the bases on the Fenway diamond with the woman who is now his wife.
And Henry kept looking beyond baseball.
Through a sister company, the Red Sox owners bought into NASCAR as co-owners of Roush Fenway Racing; soccer, by purchasing the Liverpool FC of the English Premier League; and basketball, through a sponsorship deal with LeBron James. Their business offshoot, known as New England Sports Ventures, has also dabbled in marketing for college sports and professional golf.
In buying a newspaper, Henry enters an industry in turmoil and joins a progression of publishers who have tried to figure out how to balance the free-flowing information of the internet with the costs of quality journalism.
While providing no clues, Henry vowed to try.
“The Boston Globe’s award-winning journalism as well as its rich history and tradition of excellence have established it as one of the most well-respected media companies in the country,” he said in his statement. “This is a thriving, dynamic region that needs a strong, sustainable Boston Globe playing an integral role in the community’s long-term future.”