Stuck on the Off-Ramp

Anaheim Stadium (now Angel Stadium of Anaheim) under construction in August 1965. Taken from approximately where the Anaheim Stadium Amtrak Station currently stands. The stadium opened in April 1966. (Photo: Evan Wohrman)

No doubt in my mind that if Arte Moreno could, Aaron Rodgers would be playing for the Milwaukee Packers, since no one has ever heard of Green Bay, Wisconsin…I mean, I get it.  Gene Autry didn’t want his team called the “Long Beach Angels” when he was looking to move out of Dodger Stadium shortly after birthing the team in the early 1960s. He wanted the team to have its own identity, and its own geographic region with which to grow his fan base.  Hence, the “California Angels” were born:

When Gene Autry was looking to move his team out of Los Angeles and into the suburbs in the early 1960s, his first option was Long Beach. Autry liked the location, midway between Los Angeles and Orange County, with easy freeway access. The plan was to build a stadium on property that is now El Dorado Regional Park. Negotiations between the Angels and the city progressed until hitting what appeared to be a minor snag: What to call the team. The city demanded the team be called the Long Beach Angels. Autry, thinking the name sounded too minor league, insisted on the Los Angeles Angels or the California Angels. The city held out for Long Beach . . . and that was the deal breaker.

Construction of Anaheim Stadium (with landmark guides), February 5, 1965
Herald-Examiner Collection; Los Angeles Public Library.

What’s important to note about Autry’s original desire, as to the location of this Long Beach stadium, was the freeway access.  Of course, anyone who has attempted to exit off the Cerritos/Spring Street exit off the 605 Freeway on a busy weekend afternoon when there’s an event at El Dorado Park might beg to differ with respect to the freeway access.  But moving to Anaheim, where Disneyland had been established 10 years before, allowed the Angels to try to build upon the idea that there could be other destinations in Southern California that didn’t have to be in Los Angeles.

It’s also ironic to note that one of the original sites considered for Disneyland was the land later to be so attractive to Dodger owner Walter O’Malley.

For Arte Moreno of the Angels though, Anaheim isn’t attractive enough, because it’s not Los Angeles.  Therefore, just a like a kid who squints his eyes and tries to “squeeze” something between his fingers off in the distance to show his “strength”, Moreno decided that calling Anaheim “Los Angeles” would therefore make it so.  It’s just another lesson that the 1% teaches those of us in the 99%.  Just like the lesson Arte Moreno is about to teach us about how he not only brought the Angels to Los Angeles, he’d now *actually* bring the Angels to Los Angeles:

Pull out of the OC sometime after 2016, and Party Arte Moreno thinks he could be heading a caravan up Interstate 5 toward Staples-ville. It’s Battle Los Angeles, amigo. Get it? We’re not sure the Angels’ owner really does here. The billboard baron has been artfully dodging questions about some crazy end game that he has stuck in his noggin – now that “Los Angeles” is legally attached to his franchise’s name, he’s doing all he can to rally the thinkers at AEG to monkey around with this idea of building him a downtown L.A. ballpark. It can happen after his latest contract out with the city of Anaheim comes up in four years. Arte was indeed admiring the view out of Tim Leiweke’s skyscraper offices recently, pointing out plots of land where he could envision his own money-ballyard. Good luck with that, Leiweke likely told him. Let us know how that works…

Lost in the nightmare of trying to imagine traffic armageddon in and around the location of Moreno’s new “crown jewel” in downtown Los Angeles, is why he’d consider picking up the torch for AEG’s hopes of building a downtown sports stadium, without even considering the other location for a new sports stadium:  the Walnut/Industry crossroad location of the “Los Angeles Football Stadium”:

THE FACTS

Central location, easy access and plenty of on-site parking

Fact: 20 minutes east of Los Angeles, 15 minutes north of Disneyland

Fact: Equidistant from Hollywood and Newport Beach

Fact: Within an hour of over 15.5 million people – that’s 1/19 people in the USA

Fact: At the crossroads of two major freeways and four counties

The “Los Angeles Football Stadium”: lost in the hoopla over AEG’s Farmer’s Field in downtown Los Angeles, does this location offer possibilities for baseball should Moreno insist upon moving the Angels out of Anaheim?

If Walt Disney, Walter O’Malley, and Gene Autry could all see the wisdom of trying to get as easy freeway access for their attractions as they could, why is it that Arte Moreno, in addition to his geographic illiteracy, flunks history class as well?

Does the “Grand Crossing” stadium location work for a potential baseball team?  I have no idea if Ed Roski and his people behind the scenes in trying to attract notice of the NFL to bring a football team back to L.A., have even given a single thought to bringing baseball instead, in this instance Arte Moreno, to their stadium plans.  But admittedly, the idea has its appeal in terms of the property in place, the freeway access, and opportunity for Moreno to continue to build upon his long term plan of “branding” the Angels’ place upon Southern California.

But in his obsession with L.A., Moreno is not just missing the forest for the trees, he’s missed the off-ramp–or rather, he’s stuck on the off-ramp, of the 110 Freeway traveling north, at rush hour, while trying to get into this downtown stadium he apparently wants.  For all of his supposed marketing genius, how he’s misread the Southern California sports market is maddening, not unlike how Donald Sterling failed to take advantage of an opening that Anaheim offered his Clippers when the Ducks became the first tenant of the Anaheim Arena (now the Honda Center).  Arte Moreno is stuck in the traffic of his own self-aggrandizement, not trusting that, perhaps, the Cowboy, Gene Autry, knew what he was doing with his team in the first place.

Advertisements

Arte, Not Crafty

The fan base grows ever more restless…

Los Angeles Angels’ Albert Pujols (5), left, argues with home plate umpire Bob Davidson, right, after being called out at home on a tag from Kansas City Royals catcher Humberto Quintero after Kendrys Morales hit a single during the fourth inning of a baseball game on Saturday, April 7, 2012, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

It’s obvious that the Angels tossed everything into an effort to take over the Los Angeles market, unseating the Dodgers as the No. 1 baseball team in SoCal. Using fan and media anger over the McCourts, Arte Moreno gave it his best shot, but the law of being first is a difficult one to overcome. Add to that the Dodgers are no doubt the most historic franchise in baseball and Moreno is left in second place in the market.

If the NFL deal falls through and the Angels move into a downtown stadium [April 29], then Moreno can look up toward Chavez Ravine and realize the Angels are not the Dodgers. If he wanted to be No. 1, he should have bought the Dodgers.
Steve Buffalo, Letter to the Editor, Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2012

…which sums up Arte Moreno’s chasing of windmills even better than I ever could,  As it stands, the Angels, as a team, continue to struggle as the baseball season turns into May.  Despite Jered Weaver’s no-hitter this past Wednesday night, punctuating a sweep of the even more desperate Minnesota Twins, the Halos immediately lost the first two games of their series with Toronto, keeping them 7 1/2 games behind the Texas Rangers, who’ve struggled themselves over the past week, thus allowing the Angels to stay within striking distance should they start to fix their early season issues.

But the team’s play on the field is no match for their owner’s insistence upon trying to seize local superiority in an entertainment market so vast that even the cable channels recognize  that there is a difference between a team based in Orange County and one in Los Angeles County, not allowing some Angels games to take priority over Dodger broadcasts in LA area codes, even though Arte Moreno insists that his team really *is* playing in Los Angeles.

The Angel owner’s geographic disconnect though, has not garnered as much conversation this past week than has the apparent failure of his team’s broadcasters to actually utter the word “no-hitter” during Weaver’s no-no.

But bubbling under the surface of frustration with the team’s start are others, like letterwriter Buffalo above, that the Angels are fooling themselves into believing that rather than carve out their own niche amongst the potential fans for baseball in Southern California, they’d rather try to steal their fans from the teams in “L.A.” that are winning games:  the Dodgers, as well as the two playoff basketball teams, along with the playoff hockey team.  Seriously, Arte Moreno ought to be sending thank you cards to the Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers, and Kings, for being successful enough that no one outside of the Angel faithful are truly taking notice of the struggling team out in Orange County.

Instead, we have his quixotic desire to move right down Figueroa Street from Dodger Stadium.  I am shocked to see some Angel fans at peace with Moreno’s thinking:

It’s important to remember how Arte Moreno became a billionaire.  He has an innate ability to tickle the fancy of the human mind and get us all to buy into whatever it may be he’s selling.  Even when we didn’t like what he was selling, for example the name change, he showed us that his forward thinking would only make our club and brand better.  So this is where it gets scary.  There is absolutely no doubt that making the Angels a global brand is Arte Moreno’s master plan.  He envisions his club being right up there with the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs in terms of brand recognition.  Can he do that in Anaheim California?  Maybe he could.  But would it be easier to do so in Downtown Los Angeles where the streets sparkle with starlets and the paparazzi pop shots of the who’s who of the entertainment world on a minute by minute basis?  You better believe it would.  The reality is that Los Angeles and Orange County are only separated by 35 miles of highway, but they might as well be worlds apart in terms of global recognition and curb appeal.  I should know, I travel frequently and outside of the USA nobody has heard of Orange County.  Heck, people living outside of California even think Disneyland is in LA.

Talk about my heart and head not being in harmony.  My heart obviously wants the Angels to stay in what we all consider their home.  The Big A has housed the Angels for over 30 years, and according to my heart is where they should stay.  But with that said, I am a businessman, and my head tells me otherwise.  I read a quote one time written by an unknown author that said “Think highly of yourself, people will hold you at your own regard.”  That statement could never be more factual than it is in the case of Arte’s vision of becoming globally relevant.  If he thinks, depicts, and acts like the Big Boys of the sports entertainment world, the rest of the population will believe he is.  A glitzy new billion dollar ballpark in the heart of Downtown LA oozes “cosmopolitan” and will unquestionably be the focal point of a move.

So I guess that if the NFL fails to ultimately get its boondoggle football stadium, the AEG people would bring in Moreno’s Angels instead.  And, apparently, Moreno is thinking that the fanbase built up over 35 years in Anaheim would gleefully follow the team north.  Upon arriving though, whereas they once expected a dedicated parking lot with little issues getting in or out after games, instead they’d get the wonderful intricacies of trying to park in downtown L.A. where there are no big lots–outside of Chavez Ravine–where you can just park your car and walk in.  Last month, AEG released its report as to what it anticipated traffic might look like on a football game day:

The stadium project, which includes a plan to tear down and rebuild a portion of the Convention Center, has the support of the business and labor communities. But some who live near the project site have protested it, saying it will bring more light pollution and traffic to a neighborhood that is already one of the densest parts of the city.

Anschutz Entertainment Group, the developer behind the proposed 73,000-seat stadium, has sought to allay those concerns with a series of mitigation measures to ease traffic and encourage mass transit. The proposals outlined in the report include $11 million in freeway improvements and other traffic management measures, as well as $10 million for improvements at a light-rail station and hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments in a city car-share program.

According to the report, an estimated 10,800 patrons would take mass transit during a football game on the weekend. Some 2,530 would walk or bike, and 58,680 would drive, it found.

Hey Arte, how’s that going to look when you have to do this 81 times each season, and how fun will that be when you’ve got April baseball games running smack into late season basketball and hockey games at Staples Center next door–not to mention possible traffic along the Harbor Freeway heading north, should the Dodgers also be on a homestand at the same time?

Adding mass transit is a worthy goal, but I doubt it can adequately mitigate the potential traffic nightmare that would occur, and not enough to convince, in my opinion anyway, diehard Orange County baseball fans to brave the freeway as often to see the Angels play in a stadium in downtown Los Angeles.  In fact, so troublesome is the parking issue that, at least last year, AEG’s President Tim Leiweke noted:

“Under no circumstances are we interested in building a baseball stadium. If you logically just think through playing baseball games in April, May and June when we have Lakers, Clippers and Kings playoff games that are scheduled on a week’s notice. Look at the conflict that would be created during that time. If you logically think through baseball playoff games which are scheduled on a week’s notice and we have Kings, Lakers and Clippers beginning their season, it doesn’t work.”

Long before Dodger Stadium was built, when being flown about Los Angeles in a L.A. Sherriff’s helicopter by LA County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, then-Dodger owner Walter O’Malley recognized the value of the acreage afforded by Chavez Ravine, asking for that property with which to build his new stadium, to have legitimate freeway access, and enough land to also have parking lots (with 19,000 spaces) right up to the Stadium.  It strikes me as ironic that Moreno is so willing to give up 12,000+ parking spaces in Anaheim to cramp his team into an entertainment center where being second fiddle to the Dodgers would be the least of his worries, given the hold the Lakers have taken upon the city itself, much less the surrounding area that’s not the city of Los Angeles.  It strikes me as ironic that Moreno’s sole strategy is to no longer divorce himself from the reality of geography but to give in that geography and just move his team to the place he wanted it to be in the first place.

So, to “plus one” the Times’ letter writer, if Arte Moreno wanted a Los Angeles baseball team that bad–yup, he really should have just bought the Dodgers.  If nothing else, he would have spared Southern California baseball fans years of abuse at the hands of Frank and Jamie McCourt.

Arte Moreno realizes that Anaheim is not “in” Los Angeles County…

Youngsters on the site of Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field, the original home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 1961, prior to their move to Dodger Stadium in 1962.  The ballpark, located just east of the Harbor Freeway, was in the process of being demolished in the late 1960s, making way for the Gilbert Lindsay Recreation Center.

The most intriguing wrinkle: The Angels’ attendance has crashed, even after Moreno shelled out $240 million to buy Albert Pujols.
The Angels sold 27,338 tickets to an April 16 game against Oakland. For the first time in 689 games — a streak extending to 2003 — the Angels sold fewer than 30,000 tickets.
They did it again on April 18, and a third time on April 19. The signing of Pujols triggered the sale of more than 5,000 season tickets, so the star first baseman might have been all that stood between the Angels and a crowd of 22,000.

Yup, a 7-14 start to a ballyhooed season will tend to do that to a team.  Not only has the owner of the team managed to get himself lost with respect to his inability to read a local map of Southern California, his ballclub, Dan Haren’s efforts yesterday notwithstanding, has also appeared lost over this first month of the season.  So, in what I would cynically describe as a way to get his team back on the front pages of the main local paper, Arte Moreno, the Angels’ geographically challenged owner, has finally realized that the team he owns *does not* play in the City of Los Angeles.

In this morning’s LA Times, Bill Shaikin shares how the Angels are in talks with AEG, the developers of Staples Center, LA Live, and the hoped-for Farmer’s Field for a possible NFL franchise.

The plan?  To maybe build a downtown baseball stadium for the Angels, next to AEG’s signature manufactured night life, and thus allow Arte Moreno to finally correct his geographic ignorance by dropping the “of Anaheim” from his team’s name, if it was, in fact, actually playing in the city for which it was named.

But right now, he’s currently starting to have trouble drawing fans to his park because of the team’s struggles early on.  Truthfully though, regardless of their level of success, is he honestly so full of hubris that he’d expect those same fans to follow him up the freeway to a new ballpark in downtown LA?

Is he really that clueless that he can’t understand that his fan base will not follow him north?

Attendance figures for the Angels when they actually called Los Angeles “home”:

  • 1961 – 603,510  (Wrigley Field)
  • 1962 -1,144,063 (move to Dodger Stadium, the team is in first place on the 4th of July and finishes with its only winning record in Los Angeles)
  • 1963 – 821,015
  • 1964 – 760,439
  • 1965 – 566,727
  • 1966 – 1,400,321 (move to Anaheim Stadium, where the team leads the American League in attendance, despite a 6th place finish…)

Anaheim Stadium, 1966

In the time the two teams “shared” downtown Los Angeles, the Dodgers were consistently drawing around 2.5 millions fans to Dodger Stadium each year after the team moved out of the LA Coliseum at the end of the 1961 season.

But while the 1.4 million fans that greeted the newly moved California Angels to Anaheim in 1966 seems markedly modest compared to the Dodgers’ numbers, they are on par with other American League teams for the duration of the time the Angel franchise has been in Anaheim Stadium.  For all of his faults as an owner, Gene Autry, the original owners of the Angels, had a sense to follow the path to a unique identity for his team.  As I’ve noted before, there’s a significant fan base in Orange County for baseball that doesn’t necessarily see it as necessary to follow Arte Moreno’s lead and travel to Los Angeles for baseball.

If Moreno takes his baseball team and leaves, he’ll be leaving behind his loyal fan base.   Is he that ignorant as to why the NBA’s Sacramento Kings are hoping to move to Anaheim (because the Clippers were blinded by AEG in accepting second fiddle status to the Lakers when Staples Center was built)?  Does he not see how the Ducks have gone out of their way to create hockey fans and market share in the same location he’s convinced himself–apparently–to abandon?  For all of his supposed genius at marketing, it’s a wonder that he’s convinced himself that abandoning Orange County is the right move for his team.

He needs a reality check.  It’s still early in the season, and there’s time for the Halos to rally their season and make up the ground they’ve skidded upon in the early going.  In the meantime, I think it would behoove Moreno to avoid alienating his team’s fans any more than their early season’s slump already has have.  But hey, at least he’s finally listening to his car’s GPS signal…