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A NEW HOME FOR THE ANGELS: EDISON INTERNATIONAL FIELD
OF ANAHEIM

A Small World After All

Latino Baseball Fans, Who Have Long Been Ignored by the Angels, Have Become Key Element of Disney's New Marketing Campaign

March 23, 1998|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Home team? Not the Angels, not in Santa Ana, a long fly ball away from where they play.

In Santa Ana, where Latinos make up two-thirds of the population, the Angels commissioned Spanish speakers to poll residents. The question--and the answers that alarmed the team's new management: What is your favorite baseball team?

The Dodgers placed first.

The Florida Marlins placed second. Well, they won the World Series last year.

The Texas Rangers placed third. Hey, wait a second . . .

"We didn't make the top five," said Ken Wachter, Angel vice president of sales and marketing.

The riddle was not difficult to solve. Under the Autry family management, which tended to emphasize low ticket prices over fancy marketing campaigns, the Angels never sustained any effort to invite Latino fans to Anaheim Stadium.

Said Wachter: "How can you forget about hundreds of thousands of people who live near your ballpark?"

No more, not under Disney management. The bilingual signs at the renovated Edison Field barely reflect the first concerted Latino marketing drive--and the first Latino advertising budget--for a franchise that opened for business in Anaheim in 1966.

"The Hispanic fan will feel very welcome here," Anaheim Sports president Tony Tavares said.

The Angels have revived Spanish radio broadcasts on XPRS (1090 AM), printed pocket schedules in Spanish, and produced a blizzard of ads for Spanish-language newspapers and radio and television stations. Next season, Tavares said, the Angels hope to conclude a deal with KVEA (Channel 52) that would make them the first American League team to air games on Spanish-language television.

"When you have neglected an area for as long as we have, you want to evaluate the entire program," Tavares said.

The Angels acknowledge they cannot approach their admittedly optimistic attendance goal of 2.5 million, which would represent a 42% increase from last season, without making good on their promise to attract more Latino fans.

While Orange County's population increased 25% from 1980 to 1990, the county's Latino population--defined by the U.S. Census as all Latin Americans--jumped 97%, to almost 600,000. Based on the 1990 census, the Angels' target marketing areas of Orange and Riverside counties include nearly 1 million Latinos--a conservative number eight years later.

"The fastest-growing market in the country is the Hispanic market. The fastest growing number of players on the field is Hispanic players," said Enrique Morones, director of Hispanic and multicultural marketing for the San Diego Padres. "If we don't market to this community, we're missing the boat."

The Padres increased Latino attendance close to 400% in the two seasons following their initial drive, Morones said. The Angels devised their marketing campaign after consultation with, among others, the Padres and the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks, a franchise that established a Latino marketing department years before playing a game.

"It's not a niche market for us," said Richard Saenz, the Diamondbacks' director of Hispanic marketing. "It's been part of our marketing strategy from the very beginning."

Eventually, Tavares wants the Angels to feature Latino stars. The Angels have not developed a Latin American player for their major league club in more than a decade, but two of their top prospects--pitcher Ramon Ortiz and infielder Nelson Castro--are from the Dominican Republic.

The Angels hired Latin scouting coordinator George Lauzerique last fall and directed him to focus on Mexico. A scouting expedition to Mexico that preceded Lauzerique's arrival produced four signings last July, and the Angels signed a working agreement with Aguascalientes of the Mexican Summer League last week.

"I think the word's out in Mexico: The Angels will be there," scouting director Bob Fontaine Jr. said.

"They're going to have to get some players the Hispanic community can relate to," said Raul Medrano of the Minority Business Council in Santa Ana. "Their cross-town rivals have done an excellent job."

Ah, yes, the Dodgers. The Diamondbacks swiped a potential Mexican hero, outfielder Karim Garcia, from the Dodgers in the expansion draft. Yet the Dodgers' stars still include pitcher Ismael Valdes from Mexico and pitcher Ramon Martinez and outfielder Raul Mondesi from the Dominican Republic.

Medrano accepted Tavares' invitation to serve on the Angels' advisory board on the condition the club would sustain its newfound involvement in the community.

"You can't go out in just one season and build up Hispanic attendance," Medrano said. "I truly believe they are committed to it."

Medrano again cited the Dodgers, this time to recall the controversy that surrounded the team after its move from Brooklyn. In order to clear land for the construction of Dodger Stadium, the Los Angeles City Council evicted a largely Latino tenant community from the Chavez Ravine site.

"They weren't the most popular team with Hispanics when they came out here," Medrano said. "With a long-term commitment, they turned things around. That's what the Angels have to do."

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