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Stealing Home From Angel Fans

'Los Angeles' may be fighting words for Anaheim. The city will sue if the team's owner discards its name.

November 14, 2004|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

Things in Anaheim looked so bright two years ago. The Angels -- the Anaheim Angels -- had won the World Series. A victory parade downtown drew 100,000 people. Then the team was sold and the new owner cut the price of beer and walked around the stadium chatting with fans. He spent tens of millions of dollars to lure all-stars to Anaheim to ensure this team wouldn't sink into oblivion.

People would be hearing about the Anaheim Angels for years to come, the city thought.

One of the smallest cities in the major leagues had something to brag about, something to help attract businesses and tourists. Yes, its citizens could say, we are big league. We have a major league baseball team.

That's all in danger now. In a bid to broaden the team's appeal, owner Arte Moreno is considering a plan to replace "Anaheim" with "Los Angeles" in the team name -- a change Anaheim officials say they will fight in court.

Already the team has dropped the Anaheim name from its uniforms, logo, website, schedules and tickets.

Anaheim officials say this is a matter of civic pride, important to distinguishing itself from the sprawl of the giant to the north.

"We're 3.5 million people in Orange County who don't identify with Los Angeles," Councilwoman Shirley McCracken said. The name change "reinforces that Orange County is still in L.A.'s shadow."

City leaders also think the Anaheim name on the Angels and the Mighty Ducks hockey team is an important marketing tool that helps the city draw tourists and businesses.

"It helps build community ID distinct from other [cities] in Southern California," Mayor Curt Pringle said.

Finally, they say, the name is part of a legal deal between the team and the city.

When Gene Autry's sale of the Angels to Disney was negotiated in 1996, Anaheim agreed to contribute $30 million to stadium renovations and to give up some parking and concession revenues.

Disney, with its world famous amusement park down the street, agreed to change the team's name from the California Angels to the Anaheim Angels.

Moreno, who bought the team last year for $184 million, inherited that arrangement.

Orange County Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly, who was mayor during the negotiations, said he made the name change a priority. "I and many others in the city said, 'Let's correct this historic wrong, this California name on our local team.' "

There was great opposition to using city money to spruce up the park, and the council approved the deal 3 to 2.

McCracken, who voted for it, said she didn't think it would have passed without the name change.

"That was used as political capital to get the City Council to approve the deal," said Chapman University President James L. Doti, who served as mediator during negotiations.

The City Council last week voted to sue the Angels if the team changes its name and it authorized attorneys to research whether changes to the team logo and uniform already provide grounds for legal action.

Moreno has plenty of incentive to try to change the deal. With a record attendance last year of 3.4 million, the team often sells out and cannot hope to draw many more spectators.

But by broadening its appeal, it might attract more television viewers, and thereby charge higher rates to broadcasters.

Some marketing experts think the team is trying to compete with the Dodgers. "They may be thinking they're better off creating a level playing field image in fans minds by having [the] same city name," said Dean Bonham, a sports marketing consultant in Denver.

This strategy might make sense for the team, but it flies in the face of the city's hopes. The Angels are a major anchor of a planned commercial and residential development called the Platinum Triangle -- a district that could eventually become a downtown Orange County, filled with office towers, nightlife and homes.

Another part of the project is a proposed football stadium, which the city hopes the NFL will build to house Southern California's first team since the L.A. Rams left Anaheim after the 1994 season.

But economists and marketing experts say Anaheim officials are misguided in thinking a name change will affect tourism or that the team name helps the city attract business. "In an economic sense, it's meaningless," said Robert Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech University. "If I were mayor, I'd like to see [the city's] name on [the] team, but [it] wouldn't be a deal breaker."

Economists said studies show that gaining a major sports team does not help a city boost tourism or add businesses.

Businesses are looking for good schools, culture and tax breaks, they say.

In the end, the more crucial question might be one of civic pride and whether Anaheim should be considered a real city or just a suburb.

Lang believes Anaheim's image across the country is frozen in the 1960s as a suburb populated mostly by whites, not as the modern city it is today with minorities making up about two-thirds of the population.

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