Magnet Night

How to attract the fans to a loser

You think hitting a curve ball is hard? Try getting big bucks out of people to watch a team that can't throw one. When Disney bought the Angels (25 percent of the franchise in 1996, the rest after Gene Autry's death in 1998), the talk centered on how the brilliant marketing giant was going to market this team. Looking back, the strategy seems to have amounted to one B-movie and changing the team colors to periwinkle blue.

The rest has been dropped in the lap of the hard-working folks in the team's season-ticket office who not only have to sell snow to Eskimos but also have to sell snow to Eskimos with the snow packaged in boxes with ESKIMOS SUCK printed across them.

We wondered how this year, of all years—when not losing 100 games passes for a team goal—you can sell the Angels to the public.

Two weeks before the start of this major-league season, we placed a call to the Angels' season-ticket office. A very nice, very earnest employee called us back and offered these words of encouragement:

"Last year, every one of our season-ticket holders was excited. We had just signed Mo Vaughn for $80 million, and we were supposed to win the division. Then Mo got hurt1, and we had a bad year.2 This year everyone is saying we're supposed to have another terrible year.3 Chuck Finley is gone4, and everyone is picking us to be not very good.5

"We don't have the pitching yet, so we have to get some.6 But so does everyone—unless you're the Atlanta Braves, you're looking for pitching.7 But that's not easy. We haven't been able to replace Chuck yet. Everyone is looking for pitching. We're still looking to obtain pitching.8

"We've hired all new coaches with World Series experience, Mike Scioscia and a bunch of former Dodgers.9 The positives are that our everyday players can match up with just about anyone else's. Our eight can match up with just about anyone else.10

"The stadium is the same.11 We still have Big Bang Friday night—have you ever been to that? It's not like a couple of sparklers and you're done. It's 30 minutes of fireworks. We have tons of promotions, hats, T-shirts, Magnet Night.12 Seats near the right-field pavilion, that's where they have lots of the kids' games, and you're probably going to spend a good deal of time out there because it's next to impossible to keep a kid's attention for nine innings.13

"Our renewal rate is down, like, 20 percent to 25 percent. That's been in the paper. What they haven't told you is that that isn't our longtime ticket holders. Those have been mostly people who only had tickets a year or two. Our longtime fans, the real baseball fans, are sticking with us."14

/1/ When Vaughn, perhaps the most sought-after free agent on the market before last season, was signed by the Angels for six years at $80 million, it seemed that the Disney era had finally arrived. Its big money and marketing muscle were finally rehabilitating the Angels' reputation as snake-bitten losers. But when Vaughn was injured in the first inning of the first game of his first season —inexplicably jumping into the visitors' dugout chasing a foul ball he had no chance of catching—it only gave credence to the notion that the Angels are cursed, and not in the cutesy, feel-good Chicago Cubs/Boston Red Sox kind of way. The Angels are more like the Kennedys: murder, suicide, broken legs caught in outfield fences, season-ending collapses and postseason losses of such exquisitely cruel timing and nature that they argue against the existence of a compassionate God. Consider Vaughn. Before last season, he was considered one of the five best players in the league. After playing a season in Anaheim and putting up very good numbers despite his injury (.281 average, 33 HR, 108 RBI), this year he's hardly considered at all. It seems that when he chose to leap into that visiting dugout, he was at once enveloped by all the baggage that comes with the Angels. Last year's free-agent jewel is now being called a 32-year-old injury-prone designated hitter, and it was rumored during the preseason that the Angels, desperately in search of pitching, were mentioning his name in trade talks.

/2/ Actually, last year's 70-92 record was an improvement. Consider that it placed the Angels No. 23 overall in the major leagues. Further consider that the Angels' cumulative 738-817 record for the decade, a winning (ha!) percentage of .475, placed them at No. 24. Don't you see what's happening? Slow and steady improvement! Circle your calendar for pennant drive 2021!

/3/ Talk about your soft sell. Yes, it's true that most people believe the Angels will have an abysmal year with a monumental 100 losses a possibility. And by "most people," we mean all who make baseball their business. In a preseason survey by CNNSI.com, each of the 11 baseball experts questioned picked the Angels to finish last in the American League West—and the American League West is probably the weakest division in baseball. The reasons for this consensus are that baseball is a game in which success is predicated on pitching and hitting, and the Angels don't do much of either. Their pitching staff may be the worst in baseball. They ranked No. 14 in batting last season with a team average of .256 and were 13th in runs scored.

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