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Anaheim should tell the Angels ‘good riddance’ – Orange County Register

I hope Anaheim city leadership treats the Angels just like Walt Disney Co. and tells the baseball team “no more handouts.”

The Angels told the city they want out of their stadium lease after the 2019 season. Supposedly, the city-owned Angel Stadium doesn’t meet its fans’ needs. Nobody’s that dumb. It’s clear this is a ploy to make baseball in Anaheim more profitable for billionaire owner Arte Moreno.

If I were, say, the god of Anaheim … I’d quickly take the Angels up on their lease termination and tell them today, without any negotiations, they should have their bags packed once the baseball season ends in 2019.

I wouldn’t see this as Anaheim “losing” the Angels. I’d view it as the city trading an aging veteran for more promising prospects in the real estate game.

Now you might be thinking, “Jon, didn’t you recently write that the city was foolish for hardball tactics with Disney?”

Yes, I think Anaheim goofed in essentially rejecting plans for a luxury hotel at Disneyland’s gates that would have yielded the city $100 million-plus in hotel taxes over 20 years. Killing the hotel was a lose-lose for the company and the city from what could have been a mutually beneficial partnership.

But I’ve long believed professional sports stadiums are almost universally “wins” for rich team owners and “losers” for taxpayers who build, own and maintain such facilities.

And in Southern California, circa 2018, the Angel Stadium site — with a hip urban feel that’s close to mass-transit and three freeways — is real estate gold the city can mine in numerous ways far more lucrative than owning a sports stadium.

Plus, the Angels under Moreno’s watch have not been a perfect tenant.

Does anybody remember when Moreno in 2005 pulled the Anaheim name off of the Anaheim Angels, something they were dubbed from 1997 through 2004? He used a legal loophole to muscle the city moniker out of the baseball team’s marketing. Almost as painful, he insisted “Los Angeles Angels” gave his sports business a more global, glitzier image.

Do not forget the key reason many municipalities would want – or attract – a pro sports franchise: That city-name marketing buzz Moreno took away. So unless the owner wants to go retro and rename them the “Anaheim Angels” there should be no further discussions.

In previous lease negotiations, Moreno wanted development rights to the stadium parking lot for … $1 a year in exchange for taking on the stadium’s refurbishment costs. Real estate appraisers in 2014 valued the land at as much as $325 million.

Today, this stadium neighborhood has become a hotbed of real estate development, a building boom that’s certainly helped city finances. But the Angels balked when one developer wanted to build the mixed-use LTG Platinum Center at the stadium’s parking lot — land owned by the city but controlled by the Angels.

Sure, a settlement was negotiated, but the squabble highlights just how desirable that stadium site’s land would be if put out for bidding.

Forget the business back-and-forth, the entire sporting industry is going under some hefty challenges. While spending on sports and entertainment is still on the rise – and let’s remember we’re living in an extended economic upswing – how that money is spent is evolving.

Legacy sports like baseball are feeling the impact: declining attendance at games as prospects for lower broadcast revenues. Is that a bet Anaheim wants to be part of?

Plus, the Southern California pro sports landscape has intensified. Two pro football teams moved here in last year and a pro soccer team is in its inaugural season. I can see why Moreno would need a better stadium to compete for fans … but why should a city like Anaheim pay some of that bill?

And the Angels certainly haven’t done much on the playing field of late to woo fans.

Moreno became owner shortly after the team won the World Series in 2002. (Note: I attended that title-clinching game!)There was initial success under Moreno but missing Major League Baseball’s playoffs the last four years — and no playoff wins since 2009 — is a solid yardstick of the ball team’s recent underperformance.

If nothing else, the city should call Moreno’s bluff. Anaheim’s been good for Moreno. He paid Disney an estimated $184 million for the team in 2003. Forbes valued the Angels, before the 2018 season, at $1.8 billion. Has he returned the good fortune?

What would the Angels do if they have no home field for 2020. Where would they play? That would damage fan support and probably further challenge the team’s ability to retain the sport’s best player — Mike Trout. That means the city has serious leverage.

This is the same Anaheim had the gumption to squeeze Disney — the company with the theme park that gave the city a global image — when the entertainment giant was willing to build a $500-million-plus resort on its own land in return for a tax break.

That should mean Anaheim has the nerve to tell its baseball team the party’s over.

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