Reimer: With LeBron-Celtics mania, Red Sox face more obstacles than ever to own the summer

Alex Reimer
June 12, 2018 - 1:59 pm

The first-place Red Sox have the most wins in baseball. They are the only major team in town that’s playing games right now. This should be their summer. 

Yet we can’t stop talking about Danny Ainge possibly picking up the phone and giving LeBron James a call. Tom Brady is campaigning against plastic straws on Instagram while once again missing Patriots practice. Oh, and Rob Gronkowski almost got traded and Brady threatened to retire in protest, according to reporter Adam Kurkjian.

The Patriots’ obsession is old news, though this is the juiciest spring of the entire Brady-Belichick era. The days of the Red Sox usurping the Patriots at any portion of the year are long gone. But the Celtics’ entrance into the summer scene is a recent phenomenon. In fact, the argument can be made the Celtics are now more relevant in July than March. 

The NBA’s ascendance over the last few years plays a big role in this. Much like the NFL, the NBA is part of the national sports conversation every month of the year. As the Washington Post notes, there were 76 million NBA-related tweets from the end of the NBA Finals last year to the season opener four months later. 

Overall, the NBA rules on social media. It’s been the most-tweeted-about sports league so far this year, with more than 100 million NBA-related tweets prior to the NBA Finals. Highlights are shared with ferocity, and perhaps more importantly, players join the conversation as well. One of most notable examples of this came during free agency three years ago, when the Clippers staged a kidnapping of free agent center DeAndre Jordan. (This is how we found out Paul Pierce doesn’t know how to use emojis.)

For the last three years, the Celtics have been at the center of the free agency bonanza. In 2016, it was the recruitment of Kevin Durant and signing of Al Horford. Last summer, it was trading the No. 1 pick, signing Gordon Hayward and exchanging Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving. This July, it will be all about LeBron, no matter how remote of a possibility landing him might be. 

Since 2006, the NBA has only seen the average age of its viewer increase from 40 to 42, per Sports Business Journal. That pales in comparison to the NFL (46-40) and certainly MLB (52-57). In 2017, basketball surpassed baseball as America’s second-favorite sport. 

As those numbers indicate, the apparent lack of buzz surrounding the 45-win Red Sox is probably more of a baseball problem than anything else. The average length of game continues to rise, despite numerous efforts to speed things up. So far this season, 34 percent of plate appearances have ended in either a home run, strikeout or walk. Baseball is slower than ever. 

There’s also a surplus of putrid teams. Three clubs in the AL –– Orioles, Royals and White Sox –– are already at least 20 games under .500. Unfortunately, the Red Sox have 11 games against the Orioles left. 

This lack of competition is harming teams across the country in terms of attendance. For the first time since 2003, MLB is on pace to attract fewer than 70 million fans to the park. 

Red Sox president Sam Kennedy told me recently the Sox are trying to make Fenway Park about more than just going to the game. They’ve implemented more walkable areas around the stadium, and he says it’s attracting more young people to Fenway.

"They may not be sitting still for that three or three-and-a-half time period, but if we give them other offerings and places to go, it creates an experience that's unique, cool, different and very social,” Kennedy said on “Two Outs.” 

Interest in the Red Sox this season, at least in terms of television eyeballs, is up as well. Kennedy says NESN ratings are up roughly 23 percent overall and 20 percent in the 18-34-year-old demo. Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are dominating All-Star balloting

If the Red Sox continue on this incredible pace, of course they will gain more traction. But they’re not in control of their own destiny. The Patriots were always there with training camp in August, and now, the Celtics will be there in July. 

There are more obstacles than ever in the Red Sox’ path if they want to capture Boston this summer. 

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