Battle for L.A. heats up

Angels owner Arte Moreno won't play second fiddle to the Dodgers and plans on winning over L.A. one fan at a time.

Originally Published: July 20, 2004
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

Before Angels owner Arturo Moreno came to town, the 91 Freeway was the border between Angels and Dodgers territory. To the north, Los Angeles County for the most part bled Dodger blue. In the south, Orange County residents supported the Halos.

Arturo Moreno
Arturo Moreno hasn't had to pass around the hat to lure high-priced talent.

But Moreno, who used some of the fortune he amassed from his outdoor advertising business to purchase the Angels last May, has obviously advised his marketing troops to break down barriers that have defined Southern California baseball fan loyalty for decades.

Billboards in Dodgers terrain proclaim the Angels as "The 'A' Team." Television ads show city signs, including one at Los Angeles International Airport, with the Angels "A." And word broke earlier this month that Moreno was interested in permanently changing the team's identifying city from Anaheim back to Los Angeles, something he had already done to the team's uniforms (removing Anaheim from road jerseys) and schedules in order to borrow the brand value associated with the nation's second largest city.

The name change isn't going to happen anytime soon, as the city of Anaheim made the city name mandatory as part of its $30 million commitment to stadium renovations in 1997. But that barrier isn't expected to halt Moreno's charge to make the Angels Southern California's favorite team. The initiative wouldn't be getting as much attention if he had no ballpark atmosphere or on-field product to sell that would rival one of baseball's most storied franchises. But with a refreshing stance on listening to his customers and a fistful of cash, the Angels -- for the first time since they expanded into the league as the Los Angeles Angels in 1961 -- could actually outdraw the Dodgers this season.

"We're very respectful of the Dodgers," Angels spokesman Tim Mead said. "We don't have ads that say, 'Think Red Instead of Blue.' But our owner believes that in order to think big you better act big and that's what we are doing."

While the Dodgers' new owner Frank McCourt was getting all his paperwork approved by Major League Baseball this past offseason, Moreno signed off on $146 million in free agent contracts including that of Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar and Jose Guillen -- all of whom have great potential drawing power in California thanks in part to their Hispanic ethnicity.

While some Californians might be surprised by the Angels' audacity to challenge the Dodgers in an off-the-field revenue duel, it's really just about a chief executive in Moreno who knows that the only way he can continue to be a free spender (without draining a large chunk of his $940 million net worth) is to work hard to make some of that money back. A number of population growth projections say that Southern California can grow to as much as 23 million from its current 17 million residents over the next 20 years, but at least one study, by the New York Times, projects that Orange County -- where the Angels reside -- will have the least population growth among Southern California's six counties.

"The ongoing battle is something we haven't really seen in this town," said David Carter, principal of The Sports Business Group, a sports consulting firm based in Los Angeles. "In the past, the Angels haven't proven to be a formidable opponent, but they certainly are now."

The Dodgers' management has played cool to the growing rivalry, passively accepting their competitors' aggression instead of firing back, much in the way market leader Coca-Cola let Pepsi run wild with its blind taste test. Part of the so-called strategy can be attributed to the fact that McCourt was approved in February, which made it difficult to turn around a substantial plan. The other factor in the Dodgers' nonchalant attitude appears to be due to McCourt's confidence in the team's brand. It was McCourt who told the Washington Post earlier this year that the community isn't going to "fall for marketing."

"We don't want to rest on our laurels too much," said Sergio Del Prado, the Dodgers' vice president of sales. "But we're not going to pay too much attention to what another team is doing. We'll worry about selling our own product."

The Dodgers clearly aren't suffering. The amount of fans purchasing season tickets is at a 10-year high and walk-up sales isn't too shabby either, with the Dodgers finishing the first half of the season with the second-best record in the National League.

Super closer Eric Gagne is easily on his way to earning his $5 million salary, as Dodgers execs report that the team's most popular T-shirt is the one of Gagne with a blue goatee. Gagne's performance has also been credited with helping to bump concession sales, as fans have a tendency to get another round of food and drink if the Dodgers are leading in the late innings in anticipation of a Gagne sighting.

As of now, the Dodgers and the Angels are likely to both come out big winners this season. If all goes well and both teams are in the pennant race, both teams shouldn't have a problem each drawing over 3.3 million fans. That would set a new record for combined attendance of two teams in the same market, topping the 6.2 million the Dodgers and Angels established in 1982.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter