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Anaheim Unlikely to Fight the NFL Over Team Name

After it lost a suit over the Angels' retitling, the city won't force the issue while trying to attract a football franchise. And yes, money is a factor.

April 19, 2006|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Anaheim spent millions of dollars on a failed legal battle to keep "Los Angeles" out of the local baseball team's name. But when it comes to landing a National Football League franchise, city officials acknowledge that a team in Anaheim could carry the name "Los Angeles."

As the NFL edges closer to choosing between the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Anaheim's Platinum Triangle for a stadium site, Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle said the city had little leverage to force a team to adopt "Anaheim" in its name.

In fact, the issue isn't even on the table. "We won't own the building or run it," Pringle said. "So we will have ... limited control over the name of the team."

Sports marketing experts said they were not surprised that Anaheim wasn't making naming rights a negotiating point with the NFL, given that a team called "Los Angeles" -- even if it played in Orange County -- would translate into hundreds of millions of dollars in additional national advertising and television revenue.

"You know where you can pick your battles," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "The strength of the NFL is that it has the flexibility to call a team what it wants. The Giants play in New Jersey, the Jets play in New Jersey, but both teams are called 'New York.' "

The city fought Angel owner Arte Moreno in court because it had contributed $20 million to the stadium's 1996 renovation in exchange for putting "Anaheim" in the team's name.

Pringle said city officials would make it clear to the owner of an NFL franchise that they would prefer "Anaheim" in the team name. But forcing the issue -- even if the league and team owner supported it -- would cost the city millions of dollars to gain naming rights, he said.

"We paid a lot for our name on a baseball team," he said. "I don't think the city would be interested in paying for the name of a football team."

During the recent five-week trial to restore "Anaheim" to the Angels' name, city attorneys argued that the team's name change to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim would cost the city as much as $373 million in lost media exposure and tourism revenue over two decades. Moreno was less specific, but argued in court that keeping "Anaheim" forefront in the team's name would cost him millions in advertising revenue.

Just weeks after a jury found in Moreno's favor, the city briefly held up a deal to bring minor league basketball to the city-owned arena to ensure "Anaheim" was the only city in the team's name.

The NBA Developmental League isn't the NFL. Local owners paid $300,000 for Anaheim's minor league basketball franchise, which will begin play this fall. The NFL's newest franchise, the Houston Texans, sold for $700 million.

Anaheim's approach to the name issue makes economic sense for the city, said Dean Bonham, a Denver-based sports marketing expert.

"If putting the name 'Los Angeles' on their NFL franchise is the only way to get a team there, then it's better than having no team at all," he said. "Over the years, the team will bring the city hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefit. This is one of those situations where you hold your nose and sign the contract. You get the team, but not the name."

Swangard said that the name "Los Angeles" would mean even more to NFL owners than to a baseball team owner such as Moreno. Major League Baseball's television deals are regional, meaning Moreno keeps what he earns. But the NFL's 32 franchises share television revenue. The league recently agreed to a six-year, $8-billion contract extension with Fox and CBS for broadcast rights.

"It's even in the interests of an owner in Green Bay to say there is a team in Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest television market," Swangard said. "I'm sure the owners are trying to protect their equity."

Moreno's decision outraged not only city leaders but many fans who felt slighted. The notion that "Los Angeles" could be the name of a new football team is unsettling to City Council members, but not enough to be a deal breaker.

"Asking for a name would throw an intangible into the negotiations," said Councilman Richard Chavez. "I'm not sure we're in a position to tell the new owner what he names his team. If the Hilton hotel wants to come in here, it's kind of hard to tell them the name of the hotel.

"If NFL owners are leaning toward a team that doesn't have an Anaheim name on it, I'm sure the residents probably wouldn't be happy about it. But I'm sure they'd still come out and support it."

Councilman Harry Sidhu has been critical of the city's proposed sale of land next to Angel Stadium to the NFL, arguing the $53-million price is well below market value. But he does not believe that pushing the NFL on the name issue would be in the city's interest.

"Having 'Los Angeles' on the team would bother me, but I'd rather have the team," he said. "The name is not No. 1 or even No. 2 on my list of concerns."

Angel fan David Skonezny was infuriated by the team's name change and figured others were too. It paid off -- he sold 2,000 "We Are Not L.A." T-shirts to defiant fans. But if a Los Angeles football team comes to Anaheim, he said he wouldn't see the same business opportunity.

"Personally, I think it stinks. There's a huge amount of hypocrisy here. As a businessman, I see the revenue a team will generate for the city as being significant. If the name is what we have to give up, there's some value to it."

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