Jury rules against Anaheim over Angels' name change

Updated: February 10, 2006, 12:07 PM ET
Associated Press

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- In the end, the battle between the city of Anaheim and the former Anaheim Angels over the team's name came down to one word: include.

A jury ruled late Thursday that the Angels owner Arte Moreno did not breach a contract with the city when he changed the team's name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last January. In a 9-3 verdict, the jurors found that the new name was consistent with a 10-year-old stadium lease agreement, which only specified that the team name should include the word Anaheim in it.

Jurors, who decided the issue in just over four hours, also found the team did not violate a state law requiring good faith and fair dealing when it renamed itself.

City officials said the change cost Anaheim at least $100 million in lost tourism, publicity and so-called "impressions" -- buzz the city gets each time its name appears in the national media in conjunction with a Major League Baseball team. The city's attorney had asked the jury for as much as $373 million in damages.

Outside court, Moreno told reporters he was relieved by the ruling, adding he needed to change the team's name to expand its market.

"I was trying to create something positive and more inclusive ... which we believed was our legal right to do," Moreno said. "Long term, we're going to have a healthier franchise that can compete."

Pringle said he was disappointed and insisted the case was about more than money for Orange County residents, who have long felt overshadowed by bigger, flashier Los Angeles.

The city sued the Angels in January 2005 "to make sure the identity of our community, both in Orange County and in the city of Anaheim, was preserved," Pringle said.

City officials argued during the monthlong trial that The Walt Disney Co., which sold the franchise to Moreno in 2003, agreed to call the team the Anaheim Angels and signed a 1996 stadium lease agreement committing to that.

Although the lease language said only the name shall "include" the word Anaheim, the city said Disney promised to call the team the Anaheim Angels in exchange for concessions, including stadium repairs and the use of the stadium itself.

A number of the city's witnesses, including former Disney officials and city officials who helped negotiate the lease agreement, testified that the intent of all parties was to call the team the Anaheim Angels.

The Angels attorneys argued, however, that the city never got that promise in writing and the final contract terminated all verbal agreements and promises made during negotiations.

Moreno, who took the stand on three different occasions, maintained that changing the name did not violate the contract because he kept Anaheim in it. He said he wanted to use Los Angeles to capitalize on the second-largest media market in the nation.

The Angels' arguments clearly won over a majority of jurors, who voted 9-3 on both questions.

Pringle said the city, which spent about $2 million on legal fees, had not decided whether to appeal. The matter would be discussed at next week's City Council meeting.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter J. Polos could still decide to issue an injunction reverting the name back to the Anaheim Angels. A hearing to discuss that possibility was scheduled for March 2.

The Angels began play in 1961 as the Los Angeles Angels, becoming the California Angels when the team moved from Los Angeles to Anaheim in 1966. The name was changed to the Anaheim Angels in 1997 after Disney bought the team from founding owner Gene Autry.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press