Restraint of trade
It can be easy to forget that for all of the work Angels owner Arte Moreno has done to boost his franchise, the team has never won a World Series under his stewardship. Moreno bought the Angels from Disney at the outset of the 2003 season, as Orange County was still in its championship hangover. Renovations to Angel Stadium were only five years old, and the future seemed limitless. In the nine seasons Moreno has been at the helm, the Angels have gone to the postseason five times and the LCS twice. Moreno courted a PR disaster and was the butt of jokes when the team was renamed, but he emerged from that relatively unscathed as he curried favor with fans by dropping ticket and concession prices. Now Moreno has built up a huge amount of community goodwill and is cashing in two ways: by getting a new TV deal and signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. These moves are clearly designed to win that elusive World Series and perhaps to also gain parity with (if not surpass) the Dodgers. It’s a bold gambit that could pay off huge.
The Los Angeles market is defined as Los Angeles, Orange, and Ventura counties. All told, the combined population of the three counties is nearly 14 million. LA TV rights also extend up into Central California and east into the Inland Empire (Riverside/San Bernardino), adding another 5-6 million residents. Like the Chicago and New York markets, Los Angeles is shared. The Bay Area, through a series of procedural mistakes, is gerrymandered by county, five to two in favor of the Giants. Recently there has been some speculation that when the Wolff-Fisher group bought the A’s for $180 million in 2005, that price was a discount reflective of only having two East Bay counties, and certainly didn’t include Santa Clara County. It’s practically impossible to verify this kind of extremely inside baseball information. What we have to go on are the sale prices of the various franchises at different points in time. The last major sale of the Giants (to the Magowan-Burns group) occurred in 1993, for $100 million. The A’s were sold by Wally Haas to the Schott-Hofmann group in 1995 for $95 million. Back then franchises didn’t appreciate at the rate they have been over the last decade. The prices look pretty even, thus making it difficult to pin down what premium for the majority of the Bay Area actually exists.
Wolff-Fisher paid roughly the same amount for the A’s that Moreno did for the Angels two years prior. However, only a year after Moreno bought the Angels from Disney, Fox sold the Dodgers to Frank McCourt for $430 million. That figure included Dodger Stadium and its surrounding real estate so it’s an entirely fair comparison, but it’s clear that some premium was baked into the price by virtue of the Dodgers brand and presence in Southern California.
Good luck trying to find some consistency in the above table. The Brewers were sold to Mark Attanasio at the same time Wolff bought the A’s. Milwaukee is a smaller market than the Bay Area (or even the East Bay) but it has a new ballpark, which makes a big difference. The Marlins were worth less than the A’s and were subject to the same stadium issues. The Nats’ price was essentially a franchise expansion fee, done solely to get the best return for the other 29 owners and MLB as possible. As you would expect, the sale price was grossly inflated. The Rays sold for more than the A’s (and Angels) a year prior, also with poor stadium prospects in a worse market than Miami.
Given the history of franchise sales, it’s hard to argue what a proper premium would have been for the A’s in 2005 had the Bay Area been shared instead of split. $20 million? $40 million? Forbes had the Giants’ valuation at $381 million. At least a third of that could have been wrapped up in AT&T Park, some other amount related to being the team with the more established and historically larger fanbase.
With a renovated ballpark and a rejuvenated fanbase in his pocket, Moreno did what any good marketing wonk would do – shore up weak areas such as actively selling throughout the entire LA Basin and radio contracts. The freshly inked TV deal is another major step towards achieving parity with the Dodgers, a World Series win will be a crowning achievement. Wolff and Fisher, who bought the A’s for a similar amount two years later, have taken numerous backwards steps such as tarping and the constant trading of young talent. They’ve also worked on attaining better radio and TV deals and have been successful doing so. Unlike the Angels, the A’s are severely restricted in terms of where they can build a stadium, and it has done nothing but put the team in a corner while the Giants continue to enjoy near complete hegemony over the Bay Area. If the price for the A’s did not include Santa Clara County or a shared Bay Area, they are surely paying for it now with the worse economy, more difficult climate to build, and the roadblocks the Giants continue to put up to delay or stop the A’s. The team is going to take several years to repair the damage caused by all of this. If it doesn’t start soon, it may never happen.