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As Owner, He'll Try to Be Just the Ticket

May 16, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The visions were broad, but the specifics few. Hours after major league owners approved Arturo Moreno's purchase of the Angels Thursday, he discussed his new team with The Times.

He did not commit to much, declining to answer whether he would pursue a high-profile and high-priced free agent such as Oakland's Miguel Tejada or Montreal's Vladimir Guerrero, or how he might raise the revenue to fulfill his promise to maintain the core of the World Series championship roster.

However, he did make one promise certain to endear him to Angel fans: Ticket prices will not increase next season. The Angels raised ticket prices 25% last winter, in the wake of their championship. Nonetheless, they sold a record number of season tickets. If the Angels contend all summer, they could draw three million fans and outdraw the Dodgers, either of which would be a first in the 43-year history of the franchise.

Still, so long as the Angels are not selling out every game, Moreno said demand did not dictate another price hike.

"Right now, I'm not interested in raising ticket prices," he said. "There's 7,000 seats, on the average, sitting open every night. Until you can fill those seats up, there's no reason to raise prices.

"What you want to do is you want to introduce the game to the people that have not had the experience. You want people to believe they can feel comfortable about going to the stadium, because they can afford to go with their family and have a good experience."

Even by tossing that bouquet to the fans, Moreno is well aware that he takes over the Angels with memories of a red October pleasant and fresh. Disney was eager to sell the team this spring, forcing the new owner to make the unpleasant choice of slashing payroll, absorbing continued financial losses or finding revenue sources Disney could not.

Moreno insists he can maintain the payroll while bringing in a little more money and coming close to breaking even. Of course, even if he pulls that off, the Angels cannot better their success of last season. Anything short of a return trip to the playoffs might be a letdown to Angel fans.

"It'll probably be a very short period before they start booing me," Moreno said.

Oh, and another thing: Call him Arte, he said.

So here's Arte:

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He lived in Orange County in 1965-66, just before he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam. He roomed near what is now South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, close to the orange groves that gave the county its name.

Moreno: "One of my roommates worked at Disneyland, so he'd get a free pass for us, and then we'd go see the Angels.... All of Tustin was orange trees. We could go have a beer out there, in the orange trees."

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He grew up in Arizona as a Yankee fan, decades before major league owners considered putting a team in Arizona. He rooted for the Diamondbacks, as one of their original minority partners. But he is a former investor in a minor league team -- "People who don't go to minor league games are really missing the boat. It is about as good as it comes," he said -- and treasures his memories of spring training in Arizona, of seeing Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Willie McCovey and Willie Mays in person.

He saw Rod Carew hit for the Angels, and Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana pitch. As he prospered in the advertising business, he said, he twice received an invitation to join the Angels' beloved founding owner, Gene Autry, for a game in his suite at Anaheim Stadium.

He has homes in Phoenix and La Jolla, so he checks out the Padres too.

Moreno: "Any city I'm in, I'll go to the park."

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He did not dispute the perception he got the Angels at a bargain price, at $183.5 million, with numerous sports franchises for sale in a sluggish economy. Disney paid $140 million to buy the team from the Autry family and another $100 million to renovate the stadium.

Moreno: "The great thing about our economy is that it's all supply and demand.... When there's lower demand, the prices drop. Disney was wanting to transition out of this particular venture, and I thought the timing was right."

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Many recent buyers of sports franchises have sold after five years, after which owners lose a tax write-off for player contracts. He said he planned to keep the Angels for a long time and would "love to" pass along the franchise to his children. He also said, however, that he was not buying the team as the toy for a rich man and a baseball fan.

Moreno: "Every business you get into, you buy because you believe you're going to make a profit. There's just too much money involved.... But this is a long-term investment. For me to think I'm going to go in there and in one, three or five years think there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I'm not looking at that."

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