Back in February 2017, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim owner Arte Moreno stated at a press conference that he and the team were committed to the city of Anaheim and would remain there through at least 2029. So steadfast was Moreno’s assurance that the Los Angeles Times’ Pedro Moura headlined his coverage of the press conference with the Moreno’s promise: “Angels to Stay in Anaheim through at least 2029.”
The franchise holds the right to opt out of its Angel Stadium lease in 2019 and has long been considering a move within Orange County around that. But no suitable location has been found, so they will stay.
What a difference a year and a half makes. In the biggest playoff-busting opt-out news since Alex Rodriguez upended the baseball world during the World Series in 2007, the Angels announced they were opting out of their lease for Angels Stadium. The LA Times‘ Bill Shaikin passed along the team’s reasoning.
“As we look to the future, we need the ability to continue to deliver a high-quality fan experience beyond what the original lease allows,” Angels President John Carpino said in a statement. “It is important that we look at all our options and how we can best serve our fans now and in the future.”
The Angels will be required to vacate the stadium after the 2019 baseball season unless a new deal is reached. This was Anaheim’s reaction.
City of Anaheim statement on Angels baseball stadium lease. pic.twitter.com/ew2LhhbAlL
— City of Anaheim (@City_of_Anaheim) October 16, 2018
We’ve talked many times about the problems associated with publicly funded stadia. From the D-backs’ suit to get out of a facility younger than Gleyber Torres, to the massive losses sustained by the City of Miami and County of Miami-Dade because of Marlins Park, it’s no wonder that stadium deals — and the threats issued by teams to vacate their homes for shiny new ones — are not smiled upon by modern local elected officials. And this led the Orange County Register’s Jonathan Lansner to tell the Halos “Good Riddance.”
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.
On the surface, at least, there is one notable difference between the Angels’ situation and that of the D-backs, for example. Angels Stadium is the fourth-oldest in Major League Baseball, constructed in 1966. Only Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and Dodgers Stadium are older. At the same time, however, the stadium remains fairly modern despite its age. This past offseason, new video boards were installed (among other improvements). One of those video boards was 9,500 square feet. And most complaints about the stadium have more to do with poor treatment of stadium workers than deteriorating conditions.
There are also other factors in play, including the enmity between the team and city that has been building ever since the Angels changed their name in 2005 from “Anaheim Angels” to “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.” The city of Anaheim actually sued the team for the name change, lost badly at trial, and paid over $3.5 million in legal fees for the privilege.
Things didn’t improve afterwards. The city, led by mayor Tom Tait, torpedoed a deal to use public funds to renovate Angels Stadium. Perhaps in retribution, the team scuttled a bid by the city to develop a new commercial complex next to the Stadium because of potential noise and threatened to sue the city if the project moved forward. The team then dropped “Anaheim” from its official name entirely, becoming the “Los Angeles Angels” before the 2016 season. In response, when the Angels asked the county to repair the 40-year-old fence around the stadium’s parking lots, the county accused the Angels of wanting to build a 12-foot-high wall to keep out homeless people. And now, the team is threatening to leave entirely.
The Angels have long been looking towards Orange County for alternative stadium sites, repeatedly approaching Tustin. At the same time, though Moreno is said to be infatuated with the idea of a Tustin stadium, Tustin won’t pay to build one. But even as the Angels are thwarted in their search for a municipality willing to build them a stadium, they aren’t making headway on a new interim deal for Angels Stadium. In fact, neither side wants to begin talks about a renegotiation of the Angels’ lease for their current stadium until after the November elections.
The optics of this situation are also different than others because of Arte Moreno’s net worth. Certainly, all team owners are wealthy, but Moreno is among the wealthiest, with an estimated net worth of $3 billion. Baseball’s first minority team owner and a former co-owner of the D-backs, Moreno essentially owns the Angels outright. The Angels have plans for a new stadium that would seat 37,000 at a cost of $700 million, but no one wants to fund construction of a ballpark that Moreno could theoretically finance entirely himself.
So where does that leave the Angels and Anaheim? Most observers think these two parties need each other, and I tend to agree. Unlike the Mariners’ and D-backs’ situations, the stadium deal isn’t being held up by maintenance issues and unwanted repair costs, and the reality is that, even if the Angels decided to move, it would be years before a new stadium could be built. The Angels need a baseball stadium, and Anaheim doesn’t want to lose its tenant, even if the team has been a pain in its butt. At the same time, however, we’re already seeing trial balloons floated about moves to Portland or Las Vegas, and neither side is moving with any urgency at this point (though that could and probably will change down the road). I think the safe bet is a short-term, five- or ten-year lease with another opt-out, enough for the two sides to have a brief cooling-off period. But if there is any team that would announce a move in the next couple of years, it would likely be the Angels — especially as Portland gets talked up as a city willing to finance a stadium and at the top of the list for an expansion team.
Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.