Riding Atop The Athletic World, Boston Is Reaping The Benefits

Boston is consumed by sports these days, and so, apparently, are groups heading to Beantown.

There's little wonder over the causes of the intense interest. In the wake of the Red Sox' history-defying victory in the World Series in October, and the New England Patriots last month snaring their third Super Bowl in four years, Bostonians are reveling in an abundance of athletic good fortune. Even the basketball Celtics at press time are atop their NBA division, presaging a revival of that storied franchise.

And groups are taking notice.

"One of the most requested items I get is whether the Red Sox can bring their World Series trophy to a corporate event, meeting or golf tournament," said Pat Moscaritolo, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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The use of Fenway Park, the home of the Red Sox, is growing exponentially as a site for corporate meetings. Events have used its Right Field Rooftop Deck, or the .406 Club, behind home plate, and have taken batting practice on the field itself. Two financial services companies did just that during the summer, and that was before the World Series win.

Meanwhile, Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots, is now into its second year of hosting corporate meetings as well as walk-in gate shows. It has benefitted from the reputation of the Patriots as a team-oriented franchise, rather than one that wins through individual stars. This carries special resonance with companies, according to Moscaritolo.

"Companies want to be associated with that kind of winning," he said.

The most immediate fallout from Boston's new sports eminence is its ability to attract other sports events. According to Don Stirling, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Sports & Entertainment Commission, Boston will host the women's Final Four college basketball championship in 2006, as well as championships in NCAA Division II and III basketball competition. These will be held at the Fleet Center.

"Obviously, all this has been incredibly enhanced by the Sox and Pats," Stirling said. "You find that when we make calls, there is an immediate warm reception to at least discuss the possibility of coming to Boston."

Group requests for special appearances by sports stars are routed through the franchises themselves. But Stirling said there is special corporate appeal to having such guest speakers as Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots, or Larry Lucchino, CEO of the Red Sox.

"These executives can talk about the business aspects of their success," he said. "While there is a magic that surrounds sports, the business proposition has to work. These teams are models for that."

According to Chris Pappas, president of local advertising agency Open The Door, requests have come in about Boston-based meetings from as far away as Thailand, many of them driven by the city's sports reputation. And Moscaritolo cites a recent financial group from England that not only toured Fenway Park, but also requested a special visit to the big Twins Enterprises souvenir store across the street to load up on Red Sox memorabilia.

The sports connection in Boston seems to be more than just icing on the meetings cake. It can make a meeting.

"I hosted an association that had been experiencing a fall-off in attendance," said Allyson O'Connor, CEO of NXTevent, based in Gloucester, Mass. "We got them 2,000 tickets to a Red Sox-New York Yankees game, and they had record-breaking attendance. That's directly attributable to the game."

More difficult to obtain are Patriots tickets because of their popularity combined with fewer home games. But O'Connor is working on a group package for the coming season.

Other sporting options in the area also provide an indigenous Boston experience. The city is a mecca for rowing, and team building can be built around rowing races on the Charles River. Boston College continues its own basketball excellence, and it has hosted coach-led instruction and corporate scrimmages.

"But my dream event has to be having your own corporate baseball game at Fenway Park, and maybe playing against some legends of the game," O'Connor said. "That would be extraordinary."

Contact Christopher Hosford at chosford@meetingnews.com.