For nearly a year, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have borne the brunt of many baseball jokes. Why don’t they add a few more cities to their name? Or why don’t other teams adopt some more cities? The Brooklyn Dodgers of Los Angeles, anyone?
For the last year, while everyone else has laughed at the utter ridiculously of this marketing gimmick, the City of Anaheim hasn’t been in on the joke. In fact, the City of Anaheim – a distinct municipality with Orange County in California – has been so incensed by this slight that they took Moreno to court.
This week the lawsuit between the Angels and Anaheim got underway, and so far, it’s been an lesson on how not to make friends conducted by Moreno.
Last year, when Moreno announced the name change, his intentions were clear. The Angels had long played second fiddle to Dodgers, their neighbors 30 miles to the north. While Los Angeles and Anaheim are two distinct entities in one giant urban sprawl, Moreno played upon the sprawl perception and adopted the Los Angeles moniker in front of the Angels.
But Moreno couldn’t completely omit Anaheim from the name. According to the lease signed by Disney, the then-owners of the Angels, and the City of Anaheim a few years ago, the city agreed to kick in $20 million for stadium renovations as long as Anaheim appeared somewhere in the team’s name.
The question at issue now is whether or not the current name with its convoluted structure adheres to that deal. Based on recent testimony in the case, this is one contest the Angels probably won’t win.
Over the last few days, the Angels have relied on a strategy designed to show that they have not broken the contract stipulating that the team name “include the name Anaheim therein.” The official team name is still the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
However, the official name and the actions of the team’s owner seem to be at odds. Nearly every mention of Anaheim is absent from team merchandise, and earlier this year, Moreno sent a memo to the other Major League Baseball teams asking them to refer to the team as being from Los Angeles instead of from Anaheim.
During his testimony this week, Moreno put on an exhibition of how not to win over friends in Anaheim. At one point, he noted that the name changed was focused around drawing fans from the “L.A. media market.” In doing so, he compared the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to the New York Yankees and Mets. Those two teams don’t pay homage to the Bronx and Queens respectively; why should he pay homage to Anaheim?
Of course, what Moreno failed to mention contains a little lesson in geography. The Bronx and Queens are part of New York City while Anaheim is part of the O.C. It’s not a borough in Los Angeles; it’s not a suburb of Los Angeles; and in fact, it’s a good 30 miles away from Los Angeles. The New York Jets and Giants of New Jersey are closer to their namesake than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are to theirs.
While Moreno stands by his decision that keeping Anaheim in the name, albeit on a second-tier basis, is within the letter of the lease, the City of Anaheim is relying on testimony from the original framers of the lease to show that Moreno is in fact breaking the terms of the lease. Last week, the city called upon Tony Tavares, the president of the Angels in 1996 who negotiated the lease with the city officials.
During his testimony, Tavares said that team officials promised city officials that Anaheim would appear prominently in marketing and print coverage around the country. The spirit of the phrase “include the name Anaheim therein” was supposed to be an all-encompassing term covering the team and its relationship to the city. It was not meant to be the literal phrase Moreno has interpreted it to be.
This argument may or may not be enough to convince jurors. Moreno, in rebutting Tavares’ testimony, wondered why the city couldn’t get a guarantee of the name Anaheim Angels built into the lease. The response focused around Michael Eisner’s original intent to call the team the Mighty Angels of Anaheim, a worse name than the one they have now.
So far, it’s unclear whose reasoning will hold up in court. But it is clear that Moreno’s antagonism isn’t going to win him many converts in a City that has tried to distance itself from Los Angeles in an effort to establish an identity outside of Disneyland.
In the end, at the heart of this matter is whether or not the name change hurts tourism in Anaheim. While the Angels have benefited from a closer association with Los Angeles, what has this negligence done to Anaheim? A jury could end up awarding the city nearly $100 million in damages.
As this saga plays out, it will be interesting to see the response of the city if the Angels win. One thing is clear: Cities, already wary of public financing for stadiums, will be driving harder bargains to maintain geographic ties with teams receiving their welfare.
Of course, one way out of this sticky mess could just be for the Angels to adopt a Spanish name. If they called themselves Los Angeles de Anaheim, everyone would win.