Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Angels Legal Defense: "So What?"

According to today's LA Times, the entire defense of the Angels in it's suit with the city of Anaheim over the name "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" instead of "Anaheim Angels" amounts to "So What?". While critics of the team have lobbied that the 'intent' of the agreement was for the team to be named the "Anaheim Angels" the real issue according to the team's lawyers is the verbiage in the contract which does not explicitly say what the team will be called, only that the name "Anaheim" will appear in it somewhere.

This friends and neighbors is why we have contracts in the first place. In business I agree to or write several contracts every year. The reason is so that in the event of a dispute we can default back to the agreement to find a remedy. A good contract explicitly explains what is intended, there is nothing left to doubt. The city of Anaheim signed a flawed document and in my opinion that is why they will lose the case. They have no one to blame but themselves.

Anaheim's contention is that the clause in the contract regarding the name of the team was left 'flexible' for former team owner Disney so they could make changes if their marketing team ever wanted. At the time Disney owned both the Angels and Anaheim's pro hockey team, The Mighty Ducks. The official name of The Ducks is 'The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim' so it is not inconceivable that they figured Disney may, at some point, choose to call the team 'The Angels of Anaheim' or worse 'The Amazing Angels of Anaheim'. Whew, that is a lot of alliteration for a Wednesday.

But what was apparently inconceivable to the city was that the team would one day choose to put the name of a second city in the name. That oversight is the fault of Anaheim's legal representation and if anyone should be sued it ought to have been them. A simple line in the contract stating something to the affect of "The Angels will utilize "Anaheim" as their home designation within their official name and in all marketing and exclude any other city, state, municipality or unofficial geographic designations." Done deal, iron-clad, no doubt about what the team will be called. That would have left flexibility for ownership to call them "The Slamtastic Anaheim Angels" but it would have forbid Disney or any subsequent owner from inserting 'Los Angeles', 'California', 'Orange County' or 'Southland' into the name. Therefore the court can not and should not hold Arte Moreno or the Angels accountable.

Moreno is a successful businessman and as such is very familiar with contracts. You can rest assured his legal team studied this prior to his purchase of the team and were satisfied that should they change they name and should the city sue, they had a case. Business people see much more clearly than politicians. They understand that the only thing that matters is the agreement that was signed between Disney and the city. Not their 'intent'. This quote from the Times article succinctly addressing the Angels position:
If the city relied on (former Disney Sports President Tony) Tavares' representations about the prominence of the Anaheim name in marketing and the limits on possible team names, Moreno said, the city should have negotiated those promises into the lease.
Duh. Put what you want in writing. Otherwise what is the point of having a contract? Further, Arte Moreno could not base his offer to buy the team on something as subjective as intent. He based his offer on what he felt the value of the team was and, more importantly, what he thought the potential value of the team could become and that is partly based on the agreements previous ownership has signed. Clearly the judge in this case, Peter Polos, does not want this to go to the jury. He tried to get the team to mediate their dispute and settle outside of court. So far without luck. Ultimately this trial is looking more and more like it will come to a resolution inside the court room. When it does it will then fall to Judge Polos to make a determination as to whether or not their could be more than one interpretation of the agreement. If he does than he would, according to the Times article "tell the jury whether it can consider that intent in determining whether the Angels broke their lease."

So for the city to come out victorious they will have to convince Polos that there are multiple ways to interpret the lease AND that the intent of the key negotiators in the agreement is valid. Two former Disney/Angel employees gave testimony this week and both sounded like they had Paul Bunyan size axes to grind. Tony Tavares, who was head of Disney Sports which ran both the Angels and Mighty Ducks during the Disney ownership days, had strong words for former boss Michael Eisner. When Eisner said his first inclination was to call the baseball team "The Mighty Angels of Anaheim" Tavares testified his reaction was
"I thought [that] was only the second-stupidest idea I've ever heard in the history of sports," Tavares said, surpassed only by the Mighty Ducks, the Disney hockey team Eisner named after a Disney movie.
I have to hand it to Tavares, the 'Mighty Angels' moniker was monumentally stupid. But at least Eisner did not paint himself into a box and force the name "Anaheim Angels" into the contract. Perhaps his motives were wrong but the idea was right. Disney wanted the Anaheim name anyway because they were trying to build brand awareness with the Anaheim name to bring more tourists to Disneyland. A venture far more profitable than baseball. Clearly Disney saw the Angels as additional marketing muscle to bring people to the resorts.

The Angels former Chief of Business Operations, Kevin Urlich also testified that when Arte Moreno presented him with the business plan to change the Angels name to 'Los Angeles Angels"he asked Moreno "whether the Angels might become like the Clippers, second fiddle to a more popular Los Angeles team. Moreno fired Uhlich four months later."

Way to suck up to the new boss Kevin. The Clippers sealed their fate by being losers for decades with a cheap-skate owner. I don't think Arte appreciated being put in the same class as Donald Sterling.

So the star witnesses for the prosecution are disgruntled former Angel employees? Should take Angel lawyers about 15 minutes to discredit their testimony. One thing is certain, should this go to jury there will be a bitter rift between the Angels and the city of Anaheim for many years. The good news is that politicians come and go so hopefully some sane people will take office before 2015 when Moreno has the option to get out of the lease and move the team.


Blogger Uncle Al said...

I was afraid Eisner would pick "Anaheim Angels in the Outfield" as the official team name, given that the sappy 1994 movie was in most people's memory at the time. BTW, I was an extra in that movie---I sill have my official "Angels in the Outfield" 32-oz plastic cup which was the only payment I received...

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Blaze Bruney said...

No contract ever written thought of every possible contingency. Since no MLB team had EVER used two geographic names why would it occur to someone to eliminate that possiblilty. It is easy to see now that it would have been a good idea. But don't try to tell me that you would have thought of that back in 1998.

10:57 AM  

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