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Economy won't deter Angels' efforts, Arte Moreno says

The reigning American League West champs hope to keep filling the seats despite the economic downturn. Putting a competitive team on the field and catering to longtime fans are among the keys.

February 26, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

TEMPE, ARIZ. — The Angels have won four of the last five American League West titles and have an even longer streak of success at the turnstiles -- six consecutive seasons of drawing more than 3 million fans.

And owner Arte Moreno plans on keeping it that way, regardless of the nation's bleak overall economic outlook.

The Angels' opening day payroll will be a robust $117 million, down slightly from the $125 million the team closed 2008 with but still among the six highest in the game.

"I have a lot of money invested, and I don't want to be in a position where every three years I have to sell off players because we're losing too much money," Moreno said.

"A couple of these owners are moving players. We're not in that position, and I don't want to be. Our plan is to be successful and to manage it that way."

Moreno said that season-ticket renewals for 2009 were "trending at about 90%" and that he expected sales to reach about 27,000 -- down from the 30,000 season tickets the team has sold in recent seasons but not a precipitous drop.

Team President Dennis Kuhl said sponsorship renewals -- income generated from radio rights, advertising, scoreboard and outfield-wall signage and game program ad sales -- were on track to equal or exceed 2008 levels.

The team entered spring training having leased 72 of 76 luxury suites in Angel Stadium -- those suites have been sold out for several years -- and season-ticket renewals for premium seats, in the lower bowl between the dugouts, are running at about 95%.

The Angels raised some ticket prices on high-demand seats this winter, but there were no increases on tickets in the upper-deck view level and on day-of-game tickets.

There will be no increases on parking (still $8) and basic concessions, and there are plans for discounts -- some as high as 40% for season-ticket holders -- on team store merchandise.

According to a recent USA Today survey, at least 16 of 30 teams are freezing or decreasing prices for season-ticket holders. And, in some cases, organizations are going to great lengths to keep their fans.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently reported that Indians President Paul Dolan, General Manager Mark Shapiro and Executive Vice President of Business Dennis Lehman were making "house calls" -- dividing up a list of season-ticket holders who haven't yet renewed for 2009 and phoning them personally.

Moreno said Angels sales and marketing department employees had been working closely with longtime season-ticket holders who were in danger of losing their seats.

"I feel terrible about what's going on," Moreno said. "Some people who have had tickets for a long time are having hardships, and we're trying to figure out ways for them to keep their seniority, to not punish them because of a short-term issue."

Moreno and his advisors have focused on what they call "the baseball experience" from the day they purchased the Angels from Walt Disney Co. in May 2003.

Adhering to a fan-friendly approach, with a special emphasis on families and kids and the atmosphere in the stadium, the owner said, will help the Angels weather this economic storm.

"We're in a business where the entertainment component is real high, and people coming to a game want a little bit of a release," Moreno said.

"If they only come to the park once, we want them to have a great experience, and part of that is the product we put on the field, who the players are, how they're performing, whether or not they have a chance to compete at a high level."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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