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OC Register: ‘Los Angeles Angels of Long Beach?’ How geography, identity inform a franchise move


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It’s fun to imagine what the Angels might be called if they played their home games in Long Beach. “Los Angeles Angels of Long Beach” has a nice ring to it, if you’re the kind of person who voted to rename the team’s Double-A affiliate the Rocket City Trash Pandas.

From a distance, the Angels appear to flit back and forth, the realization of Dante’s Rose of Paradise. They have moved from Los Angeles to California to Anaheim to Los Angeles of Anaheim, often without relocating. Last month their lease on Angel Stadium was extended, but only to Dec. 31, 2020. That opened the possibility for another move. If you’re the mayor of Long Beach, why not pay a call to 2000 E. Gene Autry Way?

Late Monday, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia confirmed to the Southern California News Group that city officials have approached the Angels about potentially relocating to a 13-acre waterfront property near the Convention Center. It’s a bold proposition. Angel Stadium is surrounded by 128 acres of city-owned land, mostly parking lots. The Long Beach site doesn’t leave much room for imagination. Steve Goodling, the President and CEO of the Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Tuesday that officials haven’t begun a “formal visioning process” for the site. That sounds as important as it does vague.

The idea of moving the Angels to Long Beach demands another sort of visioning process: How does a professional sports franchise derive its identity?

Players are lucky to remain with one team for a decade. Managers and coaches, half that. Uniforms can remain static for generations, though even changing clothes won’t alienate an entire fan base. The simple, obvious answer is geography. If we follow the money, regional television contracts still reign over Major League Baseball unlike any other league in North America. Teams are assigned official “territorial rights” under MLB bylaws. If location is not the primary supplier of a team’s identity, what is?

Location was the centripetal force compelling baseball’s last franchise relocation. When executives for the Atlanta Braves plotted the home address of every fan who purchased a ticket during the 2013 season, the map revealed a disconnect. Turner Field anchored a giant red cluster of dots spreading out like a fan from downtown Atlanta. The cluster extended some 40 miles north, east and west. The area south of downtown was mostly blank.

Like the Angels, the Braves were a tenant in their city-owned ballpark. When the team failed to renew its lease agreement with Atlanta officials, it looked elsewhere for a home. SunTrust Park, located in the city of Cumberland, opened its doors in 2017. It’s a 14-mile drive north from downtown Atlanta, closer to the center of that big red cluster of dots. Turner Field was only 20 years old when it hosted its last Braves game, yet the move made sense.

If the Angels were to leave Anaheim, the dots would not lead them to Long Beach.

Using a crude but clever metric – Facebook likes – the New York Times attempted to plot MLB team fandom on a map of zip codes in 2014. There was a certain logic to the Angels-Dodgers divide. The farthest west that “Angels territory” extended was Seal Beach, in the northwest corner of Orange County. It’s separated from Long Beach by the San Gabriel River. Cross the river and you’re in Los Angeles County. According to Facebook, this is the beginning of Dodgers territory.

It would be inaccurate to say there are no Angels fans in Long Beach, but moving the team there would defy the simple logic that led the Braves to Cumberland.

A better metric for delineating the boundaries of “Angels territory” would be to identify where their season-ticket holders live. The team declined to provide this data, however. If we trust the Facebook data, once you leave Orange County, the only trail leading to more Angels fans is the Eastbound 91 Freeway: Chino Hills, Chino, Eastvale, Riverside, Norco. These isolated pockets are surrounded by Dodgers territory.

Facebook likes, however accurate, do not inform the official position of Major League Baseball.

MLB defines Dodgers territory and Angels territory as one and the same: “Orange, Ventura and Los Angeles counties; provided, however, that this territory shall be shared with” the other team. San Diego County is Padres territory. San Bernardino County is shared by its two Class-A California League teams, in Rancho Cucamonga and San Bernardino. Riverside County belongs to the Cal League’s Lake Elsinore Storm. The rest of Southern California is neutral land in the eyes of the league. Long Beach’s “formal visioning process” will certainly reveal its share of obstacles, but red tape from MLB should not be among them.

This is what makes the Braves’ relocation, or any other recent move, an apples-to-oranges comparison next to a possible Angels move to Long Beach. The Braves do not share their official territory with any other MLB team. Only the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, and the New York Yankees and Mets share certain slivers of their territory with each other. The Angels and Dodgers are the only teams that share 100 percent of their territory.

That’s why regional identity is so critical here. For all their name changes, the Angels have a geographically defined fan base within Southern California, even if MLB’s definition of “Angels territory” and “Dodgers territory” isn’t specific. Relocating to Long Beach – a Dodgers hotbed, and more than an hour away from the Angels hotbeds in Riverside County – would inconvenience a large portion of the team’s fan base. That makes for a questionable business plan.

It’s more than that, though: In baseball, running from your fans amounts to running from your identity.

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I am often amazed by that too. I am originally from Long Beach and grew up in an Angels family. Somehow, though, I have cousins and friends I went to HS with who are Yankees fans. I also remember going to Game 3 of the ‘02 ALDS with my dad and being very surprised by the number of NYY fans there. Glad the Halos punked them after falling behind that game.

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