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Angels Try to Give Fans Something of Interest

October 21, 1994|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Angels, troubled by declining season-ticket sales and thwarted by the inability to make off-season moves because of the baseball strike, recognized their perilous situation.

For weeks they pondered how to persuade the public to buy season tickets. They had the same miserable team and no way to assure there would even be a 1995 season.

"The fans are the cornerstone of any franchise," club President Richard Brown said. "We kept racking our brains for an incentive to bring the fans back."

The brainstorm hit Brown at 3 one morning, waking him from a sound sleep. The idea would guarantee fans a 1995 baseball season, or at the least, pay them for their trouble.

The slogan: "We guarantee the '95 season, and you can bank on it."

Although it may be impossible for the Angels to promise that their scheduled season opener against the Milwaukee Brewers will be played April 4 at Anaheim Stadium, they can at least guarantee earnings to their season-ticket holders if the season is delayed.

The Angels have pledged to pay 5% interest on season-ticket advances paid by Jan. 13, 1995, if the season is delayed. And considering that the going rate is about 3.5% on savings accounts, fans can actually profit if the strike continues. Fans will not only be repaid the cost of their original tickets, but a 5% surcharge for each game canceled.

Those who owned season tickets in 1994 have the option to apply the refund due them for this season's canceled games toward the purchase of 1995 season tickets. They will receive 5% interest on their money dating to Aug. 23, the scheduled date of the first canceled home game, until Jan. 13. They, too, would then be eligible to receive 5% for games canceled during the 1995 season.

Considering that the Angels finished the 1994 season with the American League's worst record, and second-worst in baseball, who could blame fans for rooting for the strike to continue?

"God, I hope not," said Kevin Uhlich, Angel vice president of operations. "Certainly, that's not our intention."

In reality, the program is not much of a risk for the Angels. They are paying 5% interest only for five months on the advance money from 1994 season-ticket accounts, which is about $3.80 an average season ticket. The interest simply will be deducted from the total 1995 ticket price.

And for those new season-ticket holders, the Angels won't have to pay a penny if the season starts on time, even if it means playing with replacement players. In fact, even if the entire season were canceled, the Angels would be responsible for only $18.23 in interest to each season-ticket holder.

Yet, the Angels have generated spirited response. They claim that only 60% of their 1994 season-ticket holders are seeking refunds, and the rest have told the club to keep their money for the 1995 season.

"It's been quite a success in its early stages," Brown said. "The money we're paying is better than they'll get in their bank account. It's a no-lose situation for the fans."

Said Uhlich: "The (San Francisco) Giants and Philadelphia (Phillies) are also crediting season tickets with interest, but we're the first club to guarantee a season to our customers. We believe there will be a season, anyway, but if for some reason there isn't, the fans will make a lot of money in interest."

The Angels' season-ticket base of 12,395 last year was the lowest since 1979, and it has declined for four consecutive years since selling a franchise-record 18,747 in 1990. Even if there had been no strike, the Angels were projecting ticket sales of only 1.9 million.

The club lost $8 million in 1994, according to owner Jackie Autry, and $24 million during the last six years. Autry has become so disenchanted that she has the club up for sale.

"You run into bad economics and bad teams, and either one can kill you," Brown said. "Well, we had both, and that equals murder.

"We all know what is most attractive to any fan is a winning team and, obviously, we haven't had that for several years."

The Angels finished with a 47-68 record in 1994 and have had only one winning team since their last division championship team in 1986. They had hoped to generate interest early in the off-season by signing designated hitter Chili Davis to a multiyear contract, trading for a bona fide bullpen stopper, finding a power-hitting first baseman and maybe even acquire a top-notched starter.

The strike wiped out everything.

"We have a lot of plans that are put on hold," Brown said. "So meanwhile, we're going to become more pro-active in ticket sales. It used to be that we'd sell season tickets only when someone came to our office or called.

"Needless to say, that's going to change."

Brown said the Angels will hire a director of ticket sales. They will assemble a booster club to assist in ticket sales, offering trips with the team as incentives. And they will launch a telemarketing campaign.

"We're doing things that will bring us into the 20th Century, and the 21st Century," Brown said. "We're finally going to be in line with the other baseball clubs.

"One of the benefits from the strike--although I hope never to go through another one of these--is that it gave us the opportunity to address the needs and weaknesses of this organization.

"You're going to see us go out into the community and sell the California Angels like it has never been done before."

Angel Season-Ticket Sales

1961 3,312

1962 2,602

1963 2,951

1964 2,134

1965 2,094

1966 5,658

1967 5,034

1968 5,525

1969 4,379

1970 3,301

1971 3,548

1972 3,169

1973 3,104

1974 3,273

1975 3,414

1976 3,718

1977 5,879

1978 6,530

1979 11,043

1980 17,514

1981 16,970

1982 16,043

1983 18,075

1984 17,287

1985 17,164

1986 17,290

1987 18,513

1988 18,424

1989 18,001

1990 18,747

1991 17,229

1992 15,491

1993 13,258

1994 12,395

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