What’s In a Name?

Life began innocently enough for the Angels. Baseball expanded for the first time in 1961 and two teams were added, both in the American League. The second incarnation of the Washington Senators replaced the team that moved to Minnesota and became the Twins the year before. The Los Angeles Angels began play at Wrigley Field (LA). Not to be confused with the Chicago Cubs’ ballpark, Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field was built in 1925, and was home to the Pacific Coast League’s Los Angeles Angels. William Wrigley, owner of Wrigley Gum, owned both the Cubs and the Angels at the time. The Los Angeles ballpark was actually designed to look like Cubs Park, which was also eventually renamed Wrigley Field.

After only one year at Wrigley, the Angels began to play at Dodger Stadium. In what was probably a scheduling nightmare, the Angels and Dodgers shared Chavez Ravine for four years until the Angels finally found a home of their own. In 1965, a season before they made their move to Anaheim, the Los Angeles Angels became the California Angels. In 1966, the team left the inner city, made their new home in Anaheim, and began play at Anaheim Stadium. After five turbulent years of name changes and relocations, the Angels would have over 20 years of consistency.

In 1996, the Angels were bought by the Walt Disney Company, and a new lease was negotiated with the city of Anaheim. As part of the new lease, the city wanted the team renamed the Anaheim Angels. Innocently enough, Disney wanted some flexibility in the event they wanted to rename the team the Angels of Anaheim, so the lease contracted an obligation for the team to “include the name Anaheim therein.” Beginning with the 1997 season, the California Angels became the Anaheim Angels and Anaheim Stadium became Edison International Field. The city spent $20 to $30 million on ballpark renovations, and also adjusted their revenue sharing to favor the team as part of the lease.

Eight years and a World Championship later, Disney sold the team to Arizona businessman Arte Moreno. He made an early splash by signing Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Colon, two highly sought free agents, and in the process, brought the Angels a division title. They fell short in their division series with the eventual champions, the Boston Red Sox, but during the 2004 season, Moreno began the process of changing the team’s name to the Los Angeles Angels.

In early November, Bud Selig approved the name change, despite the fact that Moreno and the Angels still hadn’t approached the city. Rumors of a lawsuit began to fly because the name change obviously violated the terms of the lease. But Moreno had a trick up his sleeve, and in early January, revealed the new team name as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The logic was that the team could attract more fans and advertisers, and eventually even better broadcasting contracts, by lining themselves up with the second largest media market in the country.

The city immediately acted by filing a breach of contract lawsuit and asked for a temporary restraining order that would force the team to return once again to the Anaheim Angels. In the suit they claim that the name change hurt the city’s ability to market itself as a tourist destination, and that the name change wasn’t permitted in the lease. If the court found the Angels had in fact breached their contract, the city could terminate the lease, evict the Angels and collect $15 million plus any damages. On the other hand, Moreno claimed that the city was basically trying to rewrite the lease to say what the city wanted it to say. Their team name still contained the word Anaheim, it just made it secondary.

On January 7, 2005, Moreno won round one. A judge denied the city their temporary restraining order, and at least for the time being, the name change stands. Round two will take place today — January 21, 2005 — when the city will try to get a preliminary injunction against the Angels that would block the name change until the breach of contract trial. If the city loses again, Moreno will have free reign to keep the team’s new name until after the case goes to trial, which will be a very time consuming and costly process.

Both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles City Council are opposed to the name change as well, but only the city of Los Angeles has come out to publicly support the city of Anaheim. They even went as far as sending the court a legal brief letting the Orange County Superior Court know they feel the name change violates the lease with Anaheim. Whether they have legal jurisdiction to stick their noses into the lawsuit or not will be determined at the preliminary injunction hearing.

It also appears that individual members of Anaheim’s City Council are worried about a prolonged battle. Councilman Richard Chavez stated that he expected to see better language in the lease to support their suit and also said that he’d hate to spend too much of the taxpayer’s money if it didn’t look like they were going to win. He later backed off these statements by saying the council is unified in its fight. However, his initial misgivings may have some merit.

There are basically two scenarios. If the city wins today and is granted their preliminary injunction, then it puts the pressure on Moreno. The team name would revert to the Anaheim Angels, and he’d have to fight to change the name in court. If Moreno wins and the preliminary injunction is denied, then it puts all the pressure on the city. Moreno would then get to institute the name change to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, thereby forcing the city to spend money in a prolonged lawsuit which, in the end, the city might not even win.

Buried in this entire argument is whether this will benefit Moreno and the Angels in the end. Television rights are becoming more and more territorial, with Peter Angelos’ opposition to the Expos move to D.C. as a great example. So if Moreno starts pushing his way into the Dodgers’ pocketbook, I’m not sure how long owner Frank McCourt will put up with it.

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