This is, admittedly, a minor change, but the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” name has been a source of ridicule for fans across the country since the team adopted the moniker in 2005. The Angels are no more “Los Angeles” than Orange County or Disneyland. Angels Stadium is roughly 30 miles away from downtown Los Angeles and is at least a 45-minute drive away — and potentially significantly longer with that legendary Los Angeles traffic.
The Angels claiming Los Angeles is one of the more cynical marketing moves in American professional sports, but it’s understandable. Especially in a world where media markets determine so much of a franchise’s revenue, anything to claim more viewers — like the 17 million people in Los Angeles — goes. But in the history of the Angels name and the distinctions between Los Angeles and Anaheim is a fascinating story of the battles between sports franchises and the cities who host and help finance them.
The Angels began their major league life playing in Los Angeles proper. The name “Angels” was taken from the city’s former PCL club. The minor league version was an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs and played at a stadium in Los Angeles also dubbed “Wrigley Field,” not to be confused with the friendly confines of Chicago’s north side. Then, for the next four years, the Angels shared Dodger Stadium with the city’s National League team.
In 1966, the Angels moved into Anaheim Stadium, a brand new field financed entirely by public funds. Anaheim Stadium, which would eventually be known as Edison International Field of Anaheim, Angel Stadium of Anaheim, or colloquially as The Big A, cost $24 million, or roughly $177 million in 2017 dollars. Upon the move, the Angels changed their name to the California Angels. In 1996, as part of a lease agreement that included the city of Anaheim pumping another $30 million into the stadium for renovations, the club changed its name to the Anaheim Angels.
At the time, the Angels were owned by The Walt Disney Company. To give the company some liberty in naming the team — as the company took with its other professional sports squad, the NHL’s Mighty Ducks of Anaheim — the lease did not demand that the team specifically be called the “Anaheim Angels,” but rather that “Anaheim” simply had to be contained within the team’s name.
The Walt Disney corporation, thankfully, decided against the “Mighty Angels of Anaheim,” keeping the team as the Anaheim Angels until selling the franchise to Arte Moreno in 2003. Moreno was welcomed as owner primarily due to his promise to keep the team in Anaheim, but his relationship with the city would soon go sour. Two years after buying the team, Moreno announced the club would be changing its name to the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim,” part of a “marketing plan” designed to convinced advertisers and media companies that the millions of people in the Los Angeles metro area were part of the club’s reach. “We’re not saying we’re not happy in Anaheim,” Moreno told USA TODAY. “We’re just trying to include more of the metropolitan area.”
Moreno didn’t just change the name. He was gradually phasing out references to the city name on team apparel and other merchandise as well. City officials, understandably, felt like they had been bamboozled by Moreno. What did they pay for in the 1996 renovations if the city name was no longer going to be a part of the Angels identity? The team abided by the terms of the lease in only the most technical sense while otherwise downplaying its connection to Anaheim as hard as it could.
And so the city sued, claiming the inclusion of Los Angeles in the team’s name violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the contract it signed with the Disney corporation back in 1996. The lawsuit claimed that the name change resulted in the loss of $100 million worth of “impressions” for the city of Anaheim — even if they were still the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim,” most referred to them simply as the Los Angeles Angels, and most merchandise and advertisements simply referred to them as the “Angels.”
The city also alleged it was losing tax revenue due to a loss of tourism without the publicity of the “Anaheim” name appearing in newspaper box scores and televised sports broadcasts. A study commissioned by the city put the value of these impressions at anywhere between 70 cents and $1.10 per 1,000 and found the city had lost some 28 billion impressions — or as much as $32 million in a single year.
Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle acknowledged that Anaheim and the rest of Orange County were much smaller in the 1960s, when the Angels arrived — “Truly suburb,” he acknowledeged. But, he added, “Today we’re not. Orange County is the fifth-largest county in the nation, with three million people. Many, if not most, residents see their identity as separate from Los Angeles.” USA Today quoted one fan, 74-year-old Frank Robinson, who called the name change “a slap in the face.” Another, 59-year-old computer programmer George Branch, said he found it “stupid and laughable. How can you call a team by two cities? It kinda throws it in the face of fans that have followed the Angels for decades.”
Unsurprisingly, the mayors of every city in Orange County filed a brief supporting Anaheim’s case. But also joining in support was the city of Los Angeles. Indeed, Los Angeles filed a resolution stating that it did not claim the Angels as its own. Rather, the city said it recognizes professional sports teams bearing name “Los Angeles” only if their home facilities are within the Los Angeles city limits, in a hilariously serious resolution titled the TRUTH IN SPORTS ADVERTISING ACT.
Andrew Guilford, the attorney appointed to represent the city of Anaheim in the case, asserted that both the city and Disney intended to craft the contract so that Anaheim would be the sole city in the team’s name. They argued that despite the clear language of the lease, a California law supported the club’s claim with its requirement of an “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” in all contracts undertaken in the state. The city argued the “of Anaheim” name made a “mockery of Anaheim” and claimed that under the strictest interpretation, there would be nothing to stop Moreno from naming the club “The Angels Who Are Embarrassed to Be Associated With Anaheim” or “The Angels Formerly Known as the Team Identified With Anaheim.”
Guilford presented expert testimony that suggested that “custom and usage of Major League Baseball” prevents teams from using more than one city in their name. “There are some things that aren’t in the contracts that count very much,” Guilford argued. But despite the city’s best efforts, the court case failed, and not before the city dropped $3.5 million on legal costs.
While I’m sure the original lease was not drawn up with something as cynical as the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” in mind, it’s equally clear to me that the name complies by the strict letter of the agreement.
Despite the costs, and despite the fact that fears about money lost from tourism and Angels charity work and community involvement turned out to be overblown, city officials claim they don’t regret the battle. The Angels, meanwhile, have been a stupendously profitable venture for Moreno, who has seen the club’s franchise value skyrocket from $184 million when he bought the team in 2003 to $1.75 billion today, per Forbes, in large part thanks to a $3 billion television deal signed with Fox Sports in 2011.
Although the change was noticed just this past month, it was officially enacted by the Angels in 2015 and approved by the Anaheim City Council a whopping four years ago. A 2012 study conducted by the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau found that the first thing people think of when they think of Anaheim is Disneyland, and second is the Angels. While current Mayor Tom Tait still argues the city misses opportunities when it is referred to as a suburb of Los Angeles, this battle is obviously not worth fighting any more. The fact that Moreno recently committed to keep the club in Anaheim through the end of the current lease in 2029 has certainly helped to soften the blow.
What can we learn from this whole situation, other than to be extremely careful when drawing up contracts? The city of Anaheim sunk vast sums of money in making the Anaheim Angels happen, dating all the way back to the 1960s. The city paid the entire cost of the stadium when it was built and for 25 percent of the renovations done 20 years ago. I think there is a reasonable expectation that the city would get something for its money. But Moreno’s response to the city’s request showed little but disdain for the city government that has put so much into Angels Stadium, the primary source of value for the franchise. “The city of Anaheim,” he told USA TODAY, “thinks they own a baseball team.” The nerve!
So, rest in peace “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim,” the most absurd name we have ever agreed to call a major league team. And welcome back to the name “Los Angeles Angels” for the first time since the Angels really were in Los Angeles 42 years ago.
What’s in a name? The answer, for major league teams, should surprise absolutely nobody: cold hard cash.
References & Resources
- Art Marroquin & Sarah Tully, The Orange County Register, “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 10 years later, how big of a deal was the name change?”
- Associated Press, ESPN.com, “Angels name change lawsuit costs Anaheim $3.5M”
- Martin Kasindorf, USA Today, “Angels’ name prompts devil of a lawsuit”
- City of Los Angeles, City Clerk
- Chris Creamer, Sportslogos.net, “Of Anaheim No More, Los Angeles Angels Officially Change Name”
- Associated Press, ESPN.com, “Jury gets case in lawsuit over Angels’ name change”