Thursday, February 24, 2005

Angels Name Change: A Historical Perspective or Why This is All Gene Autry's Fault

In reflecting on why the Angels feel compelled to have changed their name back to Los Angeles Angels in January, I began to wonder why the Angels do not do better financially than they do. What happened in the development of this franchise that led us down this particular road of respectability on the field but financial uncertainty? Some of the answers are obvious to Angel and Dodger fans but remain a mystery to those from outside the greater LA area. The Angel and Dodger faithful know that the Dodgers are about tradition and winning but the Angels (until '02) had been about choking, missed opportunities and playing like a small-market team. It seems perfectly normal that the Dodgers would command double what the Angels do in broadcast right fees. But when you look beyond the history and emotion and as the raw numbers, the Angels draw just as many fans in person and on TV. Are these fans less attractive to potential advertisers? Are the demographics of Angel fans skewed significantly from those of Dodger fans? The answer, which is clear to those who frequent both Angel & Dodger Stadiums, is no. They stack-up fairly similarly but yet the discrepancy in broadcast pay scales remains. Why this is so takes a broader understanding of the history of these two teams and the very dissimilar paths they travailed to both wind-up with division titles and 3 million fans through the turnstiles in 2004.

The Dodgers were a 67 year-old World Championship team BEFORE they ever moved from New York to California in 1958. They brought a lot of history with them and then went on to win five additional World Championships between 1959 and 1988, which cemented the Dodgers with a loyal base of fans in both Los Angeles and Brooklyn. It was that rare case where a relocating team was a winner right before they moved and right after which allowed them to retain many old fans while making new ones. Everybody loves a winner. The reasons for the Dodgers moving were more political than financial but as seems to happen often in history, the two were somewhat intertwined. Dodger owner Walter O'Malley wanted to build a new stadium for his team in Brooklyn. But it was made clear but Big Apple politicos that this was not going to happen. If he wanted a stadium the government would build it and rent it to him. Once O’Malley found that no land was ever going to be made available to him he started looking west and in a helicopter ride over Los Angeles pointed to Chavez Ravine and asked a City Councilman riding with him, "Can I have that land there?" To which the City Councilman replied "sure".

The Angels came into existence in 1961 and after playing one year in a minor league park (Wrigley Field) the Halos moved on to share a stadium with the Dodgers. The Angels (and the rest of the AL for that matter) were not respected and considered the Junior Circuit of baseball by National Leaguers and their fans. O'Malley was firmly against allowing any other teams to move into the Los Angeles market, designating all of the Southland as his turf. Only after a $350,000 payoff from Gene Autry and pressure from other owners did O'Malley relent but his distaste for any team in Southern California that was not named "Dodgers" was apparent. After quickly outgrowing the minor league facility in 1961 and not having an alternative place to play, the Angels agreed to become a tenant of the O'Malley owned stadium in LA (the Angels refused to refer to it as "Dodger Stadium, calling the ballpark "Chavez Ravine" during their home stands) from April 17, 1962 until September 22, 1965. But it was clear that O'Malley and the Dodgers considered them intruders as stories of separate and unequal facilities and increasing rental rates led the Angels to their eventual home in Anaheim by 1966. Even before the Angels moved to Anaheim in 1966, they changed their name to "California Angels" to differentiate themselves from the Dodgers. But Autry threw the proverbial baby out with the bath water when he elected to sever ties with the City of Angels. He unknowingly made his team a geographical question mark to fans in other states. Much like the Golden State Warriors, many people did not know what major city the Angels played near. San Diego? San Francisco? Sacramento? Perhaps an emotional decision to distance themselves from the Dodgers started the Angels down a path of small market-minded baseball. The rest of course is history; the Angels bungled their way through the late Sixties and Nineteen-Seventies as after-thoughts to the Dodgers. Mainly because Autry would not invest in free-agents or a barren farm system and claimed the team did not generate any profit.

But the Angels actually should have done a better job of becoming successful early and the blame must fall directly on Gene Autry for not taking advantage when he could have. Autry owned both television station KTLA (Channel 5) and radio station KMPC (AM 710) in LA along with other television and radio stations along the west coast. But Autry never took advantage of the synergy his products had beyond the obvious broadcast rights. By all indications the Angel broadcast rights were a sweet deal for the stations as Autry was a broadcaster first, owner second. He saw the Angels as a way to drive revenue for his TV and radio stations, not vice-versa. While the Dodgers were investing in Latin recruitment in the 1970's and winning World Championships (and the loyal fans that come with them) the Angels operated as a nickel-and-dime operation, making money for Autry's other business units but never generating the cash flow they themselves needed. As a result the Angels became what Autry said they were, a small to medium sized market team that rarely attracted free-agents and was overlooked by advertisers. Of course, what did KTLA care if the Dodgers got more money from KTTV when KTLA executives knew they were making more money thanks to the low-ball broadcast rights they paid the Angels. Since the money that KTLA made went to Autry, he was not about to cry foul on behalf of the Halos. In 1982 Autry sold KTLA for $245 million which, coincidentally, was the first year the Angels made a big splash in trades/free-agency by trading for Reggie Jackson and was also the Angels first division Championship year. But that success may have emboldened Autry to spend money on questionable free-agents and trade acquisitions such as George Hendrick, Lance Parrish, Claudell Washington, Dave Parker, Von Hayes and Gary Gaetti. As an added bonus the Angels squandered many of their best minor league prospects in the process. This series of misadventures led to more of an investment in their farm system and a distaste for high-priced talent. The Angels seemed resigned to being, at best, a mid-market team until Autry finally sold out to Disney in 1997. Disney had their own disastrous foray into free-agency with the Mo Vaughn debacle that seemed to sour them on spending any more money either. But miraculously after taking a stand against anymore high-priced free agents, the Angels did eventually win a World Series in 2002 thanks largely to their home-grown players that the Angels were able to retain after their trading spree of the late 1980's and early 1990's.

The Angels actually had strong brand-name recognition in the Southland prior to their first game in 1961 thanks to the Pacific Coast League Los Angeles Angels that had won 15 championships and were extremely popular. The Angels were even referred to as the "Yankees West" thanks to their proclivity for winning titles. But the arrival of the Dodgers sent the PCL Angels packing in 1959 to Salt Lake. But the major league Los Angeles Angels were not far behind in 1961 despite not having an owner. Gene Autry bought them as an afterthought when he went to the Major League Baseball owner's meetings to try and grab the broadcast rights for the new ball club and instead was talked into bidding for the team itself. Then the Angels were uncharacteristically successful for an expansion team, producing a winning record in their third season. What would have happened had the Angels build on that momentum and invested back into the team to field a club that would have been competitive with Sandy Koufax's Dodger teams of the mid-sixties? What if Autry had marketed the team aggressively and allowed more broadcast profits to go to the Angels who could have used it to build a minor league system in the Dodgers mold and then continually raised the broadcast rights as they became more successful? Odds are we would not be wrestling with why the Angels had the worst TV deal in baseball save the Expos last season. Why Seattle & Milwaukee command a larger broadcast fee than the Halos and why the Angels will be scrambling to put together a cohesive TV package in 2006 with Channel 9 jumping ship to broadcast Dodger games.

The fact of the matter is, in advertising as in life, perception is reality. Reality is that the Angels play in the second-biggest television market in the country. Reality is that they draw ratings and fans in numbers equal to the Dodgers. Reality is that they are paid like they play in one of the smallest markets because they are perceived as an "Anaheim" team. The Angels have no one to blame for that perception other than themselves (and former ownership). The reality of fielding a very competitive team in a beautiful park in one of the biggest cities in the world does not square with the revenue being generated on the broadcast side.

So this is the pickle that Arte Moreno finds himself in. How to correct forty years of bad PR and mismanagement of his team's image. Channel 9 broadcasts to Los Angeles. They refer to themselves as a "Los Angeles" station. The fact that their signal happens to spill over into Orange County however has not eluded them. They still actively campaign for advertisers in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino and elsewhere to bring them their advertising dollars in hopes of reaching ALL southern California residents (or at least as big as ratings allow). Is Disneyland going to suddenly say, "hey we're an ORANGE COUNTY amusement park, we can't advertise on an LA radio station!" Of course not, because the reality is that Channel 9 broadcasts to all of southern California. The reality is that there are no "Orange County" only TV stations (unless you count some public access and Channel 56). The broadcast market is "Los Angeles" and baseball teams survive on broadcast money, ergo, the baseball teams need to be associated with the same name as their respective television market. This is not Orange County vs. Los Angeles. Hell, it's not even the Dodgers vs. Angels. They have proven that both teams can win divisions and draw over 3 million fans in the same year. Success is Los Angeles baseball is not mutually exclusive. Both teams can and have won in all areas except broadcast revenue. The only way the Angels will get paid in direct proportion to the ratings and number of fans they deliver to their broadcast partners is if they fix the misperception that they are small market. This was a goal stated early-on by Moreno and the quickest and most sensible way to do it is to align the Angels with the market that the TV stations say they service.

The name "Los Angeles" is just that. It is not the soul of the team and it does not represent anything except the given name for the overall television market the Angels play in. Orange County residents need to get over their inferiority complex and quit taking this personally. This isn't personal, it's business. It's about fixing a team's image so that they can put in place mechanisms for their own long-term economic survival. It's about overcoming decades of bad business decisions. Had Disney not had the misguided notion to rename the Angels "Anaheim Angels" to better build a partnership with the "Anaheim Mighty Ducks" and Disneyland then none of this may have happened. The Angels could still be the "California Angels". But with five professional teams in the Golden State it is a little presumptuous for the Halos to claim California as their own. It is far more sensible for them to be the Los Angeles Angels. A name that they once had and likely, should never have abandoned. One reason for the name “Los Angeles” ringing so hollow in the ears of many Angel faithful is that it is an out-dated synonym for the market-place. Unfortunately, there simply is no good all-encompassing geographic name to cover the Southland. There is no single city or county that covers the geographic area that the Angels serve. So we must default to the original name for simplicity's sake. The name that advertisers relate to when talking about the market because advertising = revenue = better team.

What the Angels need is someone in White Bear Lake, Minnesota who can look on his schedule and know when he trudges into the Cities for a Twins game this summer he will be seeing a team that represents the Los Angeles area. He knows that his little team is taking on the big, bad Los Angeles Angels and that should they prevail it will be a huge upset for small market clubs. It's so United Airlines can buy ad time on Channel 9 and everyone in that company understands they are marketing to a 10 million people and not the 300,000 inhabitants of Anaheim. When this type of thinking is prevalent about the Angels then they can command the big dollars that will be used to keep big name players in Halo red. Like it or not, this team represents more than Anaheim and more than Los Angeles. Given a choice of the two to associate with, a smart businessman will choose “Los Angeles”. Of course, due to the Anaheim contract the Angels will use both.

24 Comments:

Blogger Uncle Al said...

Your analysis is incredible. I've tried to make much the same points over time, but you drive everything home so well, I'm just in awe.

I was 16 years old when I found out the Angels were changing their name to the California Angels. I was stunned, in shock almost. I remembered as a small boy Steve Bilko playing first base for the PCL Angels. The name "Angels" only made sense with "Los Angeles" immediately before it. How could they do this to me? Atre Moreno has righted a 40-year wrong.

Your points about Gene Autry are well taken. Why wasn't it he---not Ted Turner---who developed a super station to carry Angels (not Braves) baseball games?

I think the answer is that, already by 1960, the world was starting to pass Autry by. His radio stations (comprising the Golden West Broadcasting Co. and the Golden West Radio Network) were the number one listened to stations in their respective markets. One day in the 1960s, the morning DJ for Autry's San Francisco station (KSFO) asked listeners on the SF Bay Bridge to turn on their headlights. Damn near every car did so!!

But, he never "got" rock-and-roll, and by 1970 his stations were on the decline. He had the ability to bring O'Malley to his knees, but it never occurred to him to do so, or how to do it.

I also liked your reference to the Golden State Warriors. How many basketball fans can name the city they play in? A recent poll of SF Bay Area sports fans revealed that the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings had more fans---IN THE BAY AREA---than do the Warriors. I wonder why?

Two years ago I told anyone who would listen that Moreno had "stolen" a major market team for a small market price. This is a great time to be an Angel fan.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Absolutely fantastic post. I grew up watching Bobby Grich when I got free tickets to Angels games by getting As in grade school. I only new them as the Anaheim Angels. But I support the name change to Los Angeles because it makes so much sense from a business perspective and because to anyone from outside California, that area is best described as "LA". You're right, this is all about perception, throwing off the shackles that the Autry legacy left, and
growing up as a team.

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good lord, that was longwinded. Without saying anything at all. A thousand words, and I am trying to summarize your post with "Reality is that they are paid like they play in one of the smallest markets because they are perceived as an "Anaheim" team. "

What reality? Do you have any facts to back this up? Which companies/media outlets have said that they have shied away from the team because of the name Anaheim? Can you name any? Or did you just pull that out of your butt and passed it off as fact? I will be very interested to see what facts you have to back up your "reality".

The reality is that the tv contracts that the Angels have were signed when the team was terrible/mediocre. That is the reason that the contracts are bad.

I could write that "Reality is that they are paid like they play in one of the smallest markets because the team has never had any continuity, always switching logos and team names and stadium names and geographic names. And Arte is just perpetuating the folly by foisting a non-sensical moniker like "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" on the public.

So far the name has been embraced by nothing but ridicule. And for good reason. It is a terrible name. Good luck trying to find national sponsors who want to attach their product onto the Ishtar-like name of "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim".

8:12 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

Brevity is not one of my gifts, apologies if you find my posts "long-winded".

As far as media outlets how about Channel 9? How can they justify paying the Dodgers twice as much as the Angels for the same number of fans and equal ratings? In my admitted limited understanding of advertising I thought that ratings within certain demographics determined value. Are Dodger fans so much wealthier than their Angel counterparts? I doubt it. I will grant the Dodgers, I don't know, 20% more "associative value" (for Channel 9 to be able to call themselves the "Dodger station") for sticking with the same name/logo for 47 years and winning six WS. But the Angels have had more success recently and many would contend that their players are more marketable than the Dodgers.

As for continuity -- Arte Moreno has brought back the Halo emblem and the LA name. Blame Disney for the cartoonish "Winged Halo" logo and changing the name to "Anaheim" which it never should have been. I believe I already made a case for not having changed the name to "California Angels" either. But you take out the Disney fiasco and you have two names in 44 years. Similarly, the Dodgers had two names over the past 48 years. Pretty close in my estimation. Of course if no one changed unis we would still have to offend our eyes with the god-awful Astros and Padres digs of the 1970's/80's

One last counterpoint, the name is being met with ridicule because it is always easier to tear something down than to build it up. I did not like "Anaheim Angels" but I got used to it, particularly have they won a title with it. The bottom line to transforming this team into a big market club is that the little touches like a name change will mean nothing if you have a losing team. The Angels have shown a commitment to winning and Moreno understands that if he fields a bad team this will all be for naught. Sauce for the goose as far as Angel fans are concerned. More pressure on ownership should spell better players and a better team to root for.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Uncle Al said...

Just a few more comments on Rich's initial post. The names Senior Circuit and Junior Circuit actually had nothing to do with the preceived quality of play. It's simply that the NL (1876) was organized 25 years before the AL (1901). Even during the 1930s and 1940s, when the AL was clearly the superior product, it was called the Junior Circuit.

You are right about O'Malley's reluctance to allow an AL theam in LA. Major league baseball had 2 big problems in 1960: Washington and the Continental League, the president of which was O'Malley's old nemesis, Branch Rickey.

The Washington Senators wanted to move to the Twin Cities. Had the AL abandoned the nation's capital at that time there was fear of Congressional investigation (Congress had investigated the TV industry, the recording industry, and organized labor in the 1950s) and revocation of baseball's anti-trust exemption.

The 8-team Continental League was preparing to begin play in 1961 or 1962. Al and NL owners feared rising player salaries as a result. The crown jewel of the CL was its New York franchise, the Mets, who had the city's blessing and the promise to build them a stadium in Queens.

The hastily put together solution was for each league to expand to 10 teams, with Washington offered an AL expansion team, and the Mets offered an NL expansion franchise (they accepted, forfeited their CL franchise, killing the new league). The AL wanted its 10th franchise in LA.

O'Malley was pissed, but his hand was forced. Had he said no, the Yankees would have likely kept the NL out of New York. The CL would have become a reality. The expansion team for Washington would have fallen through.

Actually, Rich, O'Malley wasn't even allowed to charge for territorial rights. The $350,000 he got was for the name "Los Angeles Angels," which he owned by virtue of having owned the PCL Angels in 1957. He also required the Halos be his tenants for 4 years, during which time he charged the Angels for one-half of stadium costs, even though the Dodgers drew twice as many fans as did the Angels.

In all the BS about the name change, remember two things. First, the Angels paid for the name Los Angeles Angels. Second, Major League Baseball considers the Angels' territory to include Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura Counties.

One last bit of nitpicking. The PCL Angels (owned by O'Malley) moved to Spokane in 1958. It was the Stars who moved to Salt Lake.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't know why Channel 9 wants to pay more money to the dodgers and I don't either.

I know this: Arte has wanted to change the name since the day he started looking at the purchase (as much as I dislike the name, IMO he has complied with the lease and has the legal right to change it, bozo politicians not withstanding). He has stated as such.

Arte had negotiations with Channel 9 thru december, when it was announced that the Channel 9 was going with the dodgers. There is no way that Arte didn't mention to his broadcast partners that he was planning to change the name to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (official announcement was Jan 3).

So, IMO, channel 9 had the opportunity to choose the Angels, *with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim name* and still chose to give a "lowball" offer. So much for the benefits of Los Angeles.

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for continuity -- Arte Moreno has brought back the Halo emblem and the LA name. WHAT???????

Arte is given credit for bringing back the Halo emblem? Are we living in an alternate universe? Is Arte responsible for the World Series win as well?

The fabulous red halo emblem and uniform was courtesy of Disney, introduced in 2002. Yes, we all hated the winged A (a Disney disaster) but give Disney credit where due.The current logo, hat and emblem are fabulous, and Arte had nothing to do with them.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

Correction noted. Moreno is bringing back the name but the uniform change was, to their credit, admission from Disney that their original uniform switch was a horrid mistake.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

Uncle Al, excellent contributions as usual. Your knowledge of 1950/60's LA baseball is impressive and the added/corrected detail brings things into sharper focus.

Anonymous--Your right on one point, we don't know why Channel 9 wants to pay the Dodgers more. My suspicion is they want to align with a more established name. No problem there. My issue is that they offered half as much. And it's not like this was some new 'low-ball' offer because they didn't like the name. It was a continuation of the worst deal (or one of them) in baseball. Your inference that the name change had anything to do with it is completely biased and without any proof. Given the secretive nature of MLB economics (they don't want any of us to know how much they really make) all any of us can do is hypothesize on this stuff anyway.

The economic benefit of the name change will only be felt after many years of winning and many years of positive association with the new name. You could make a case that they had build goodwill with the Anaheim name but the fact is, to non-Angel fans it sounds small-town. If the Angels had won 10 World Series titles with the name than a name change would be inconsequential (ala Green Bay). But the history and cult-like fan following are not there so here we are back at "Los Angeles Angels". Oh, "of Anaheim". And "vote Quimby".

3:06 PM  
Blogger Uncle Al said...

One more thing, sort of off-topic but sort of on topic. You correctly state that "Gene Autry bought them as an afterthought when he went to the Major League Baseball owner's meetings to try and grab the broadcast rights for the new ball club and instead was talked into bidding for the team itself."

There were two bids for the as-of-yet unnamed franchise, but the committee reviewing the financial statements of the purchasers felt that both were undercapitalized. That's when someone mentioned that Gene Autry was waiting patiently outside.

My point? One of the unsuccessful bidders was none other than Chicago insurance executive Charles O. Finley. Yep. One and the same.

Can anyone imagine the utter chaos that would have beset the Southland had Finley been awarded the team. This was the man that later tried to move the Kansas City A's to Louisville, to be renamed the "Louisville Sluggers." And who threatened to move the A's to a cow pasture.

Wonder what he would have named his green-and-gold clad Los Angeles team? Boggles the mind - - -

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