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Sign OF THE Times : Angels’ Marketing Department Emerges From Middle Ages

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fans could sense something different the moment they walked through the Anaheim Stadium turnstiles on opening night, and it had nothing to do with all those new, young faces on the field.

It was the caps ushers gave them at the gate. White with blue pin-stripes and an Angel logo, blue-billed and made of cotton, adjustable strap in back.

Right before their very eyes was an honest-to-goodness quality product, one they wouldn’t feel compelled to toss onto the field in disgust no matter how bad the product there played.

“They actually gave away a classy hat,” said Yorba Linda resident Mark Tuerffs, an Angel season-ticket holder since 1980. “It had always been something made of foam or colored neon green, some stupid thing. But this was really nice. Everyone was saying, right from the very beginning, that things were changing.”

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For the better? In the area of promotional giveaway items, yes. And in the area of advertising and marketing, the Angels also have made some strides.

Long considered a second-class outfit compared to their neighbors to the north, the Angels still have a ways to go to match the Dodger-blue marketing machine. But at least they’re going.

For many years, the Angels seemed out of touch with their fans. Many of their giveaways were cheap and thoughtless, some of the organ music played between innings was better suited for a Boris Karloff flick, and many of their advertising and marketing campaigns were hokey.

Who can ever forget that Angel theme song, played to the tune of “Back in the Saddle Again,” that went, “We’re back playing long ball again, these Angels are devils my friend . . . “

Or Mother’s Day aprons and makeup and jewelry bags. Rally bells. Breakfast helmet bowls. Neon sunglasses. And fishing and tackle box night--right here in Orange County, the Land of Three Lakes, not including man-made ones.

For a professional sports team, the Angels seemed to do things with a mom-and-pop, corner-store flair.

But with the departure of John Hays as senior vice president in charge of marketing last fall, the Angels realigned their marketing division, splitting it into a creative side and a more business-oriented, sponsorship side.

John Sevano, a former Orange Coast Daily Pilot sportswriter and the Angels’ director of publications since 1984, was elevated to a new position--director of creative services--and has implemented many changes, some subtle, some as striking as a mace upside the head. Have you seen the Medieval Times promos, where an Angel in chain mail clouts Sir Detroit Tiger with a lance?

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While the Angels say they are losing money--reportedly as much as $5.5 million this year--they have almost doubled their marketing budget, from about $400,000 in 1991 to about $750,000 in 1992.

For the first time ever, Sevano said, the Angels did an outdoor advertising campaign, buying billboard space at several Southern California locations. They bought air time on two radio stations other than flagship KMPC, another first.

They negotiated a deal with Prime Ticket for a new half-hour weekly television show called “Angel Clubhouse,” which airs Sunday and Monday nights. Whereas most previous campaigns were produced completely in-house, the Angels hired an independent production company to shoot two television commercials geared toward kids.

The impact of it all? That’s difficult to measure. Season-ticket sales are down by about 1,500 from 1991 and attendance is down by an average of 2,798 per game, but low preseason expectations and the Angels’ poor performance--they’re in last place with a 32-47 record--has a lot to do with that.

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“We have a very volatile product--it’s not like a box of sugar-frosted flakes that remains constant,” Sevano said. “I’m realistic enough to know that marketing can really have no appreciative effect if the product is not there to support it.”

But it can’t hurt.

The Angels might not be considered marketing geniuses, but they’re starting to catch on. With Buck Rodgers replacing Doug Rader as manager last August and the team headed for a last-place finish, it was obvious there would be sweeping changes in 1992.

The team’s marketing approach had to change, too.

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“The biggest change has been philosophical--we went to a very traditional approach and tried to become less cutesy,” Sevano said. “I tried to sell baseball as opposed to the Angels, because my philosophy is that people grow up loving baseball first, then they connect with the team in the area.

“The decision was made last September when we were faced with the question: How will the club be shaped in 1992? We couldn’t focus on someone who might not be here. It was the safest approach to take.”

In a twisted way, the Angels’ poor season has made the marketing strategy look good. With so few big-name players, and with the ones they do have--Chuck Finley, Jim Abbott, Mark Langston, Bryan Harvey--having sub-par years, it would have been difficult to build a marketing campaign around an individual.

And even if there was a worthy player, that could backfire.

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“We’re not pushing players like we have in the past,” Angel President Richard Brown said. “Two years ago, we really pushed Bert Blyleven and Wally Joyner, and both ended up on the disabled list. We wanted to push the concept of going to a baseball game, take a more generic approach.”

Whether they’ve succeeded or not, the strategy at least is an indication that the team is more in tune with its diverse audience.

“What I sense is that people go to Angel games because it’s an event, something to do, like an amusement park or movie,” said Yorba Linda’s Tuerffs, a 35-year-old president of a small manufacturing company who describes himself as a die-hard Angel fan.

“There’s little fan loyalty. You go to Dodger Stadium, and everyone is keeping score of the game, wearing Dodger blue, booing their own players. In Anaheim Stadium, on any night, there will be as many people rooting for the visiting team as the Angels. I know it’s because this area is a melting pot, but it’s not that way with the Dodgers.”

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Rather than trying to combat that image, the Angels finally seem willing to accept it and work with it.

“It’s been a misnomer for years that the Angels are competing with the Dodgers,” Sevano said. “Actually, we’re competing with all of Southern California. There’s the beach, amusement parks, seven pro teams, two major colleges, every attraction in the world you can think of. That’s what we’re competing with.”

Choose your weapons.

It’s kind of ironic that a team that has been in the marketing middle ages for so long would cause such a stir with a Medieval Times-themed promotional video.

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In a season of hit-and-miss campaigns, this one might have missed the mark. In exchange for use of their name in the video, the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament Restaurant in Buena Park choreographed 13 battles between Angel and American League opponent warriors dressed in middle-aged garb.

It usually runs twice a night on the Anaheim Stadium message board and is used to promote incoming opponents.

“People seem to get a kick out of it, but the only thing that worries me is there’s too much violence,” said an Orange County advertising executive who asked that his name not be used. “In the end, someone is always killed or whacked with an ax. It seems kind of odd for a family sport.”

Sevano said he grew tired of watching clips of opponents and wanted to try something different.

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“We’ve gotten a few calls from people who thought it was too much, but there’s no blood,” Sevano said. “It’s nothing worse than what you’d see on TV any night. We’re just trying to entertain.”

Some fans could do without such entertainment.

“It’s a Disneyland thing,” said George Stubblefield, 35, a sales manager and season-ticket holder from Yorba Linda. “I’ve been an Angel fan for life, and last place is not going to deter me. But the Angels are the most Disneyland organization in the country, and the Medieval Times thing is the same concept.

“Get rid of it. Give me Honus Wagner and Jimmy Foxx chewing some tobacco, talking about strategy against the Rangers. Give me Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig talking about facing Roger Clemens. Find some old footage and dub the voices. The idea of promoting the next opponent is great, but you don’t need to be pounding some Twin with a Twinkie stick.”

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Added Tuerffs: “It’s pretty embarrassing to even watch. It’s almost as bad as some of those old team songs.”

The Angels received higher marks for other campaigns. Tops on the list is a series of radio commercials featuring players reminiscing about their younger days and audio clips of their memorable performances, set to a generic rock-music background.

An example:

California Angel pitcher Jim Abbott on Little League: “Playing Little League baseball was something you were so excited for, the night before you’d set your jersey and cleats out and hope like anything it wouldn’t rain . . . “

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Play-by-play announcer Al Conin, with loud cheering in background: “Jim Abbott goes all the way tonight, shuts out the Red Sox, the first of his career. . . . “

Jim Abbott, on his first major league game with his dad: “I remember going to Tiger Stadium, seeing the lights and infield grass, thinking it was the nicest field I’ve ever seen . . . “

Conin: “Jim Abbott strikes out the side in the eighth inning and walks off to a standing ovation. . . . “

Then comes the Angel theme song and promo for the upcoming series.

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“Those are great,” Stubblefield said. “They bring out the tradition of baseball.”

The Angels’ billboard got mixed reviews. It features third baseman Gary Gaetti reaching over the fence in foul territory for a popup that winds up in an excited child’s glove, with the message, “Experience the feeling! Come to an Angels game.”

“Why show Gaetti going to the wall, doesn’t he play third base?” another advertising executive said. “And I don’t know if Gaetti is that big of a draw. If you’re trying to attract baseball fans, that’s not a very accurate picture.”

That wasn’t Sevano’s intent, though.

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“We were trying to convey what every kid dreams of, catching a foul ball at a game,” he said. “If you notice, everyone around him is smiling and real excited.”

Both have good arguments. The billboard’s message is ambiguous.

The Angels’ youth movement has extended beyond the playing field and into many of the team’s marketing campaigns. Kids are targeted in several radio ads and two television ads that have run on KTLA and Prime Ticket.

The TV ads are tastefully done, with one featuring four kids selling lemonade so they can raise enough money to take their parents to an Angel game. The other features a few kids hanging around, wondering what to do.

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One says, “How about a movie?”

“Nah.”

“How about roller-blading.”

“Nah.”

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“I know, let’s go to an Angel game.”

“Yeah!”

Not exactly Clio Award material, but they could do worse.

“We’re trying to focus on a family-oriented theme,” Sevano said.

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But in focusing on kids, have the Angels ignored the ticket-buying adults?

“Gearing all the ads toward kids is not offensive to me, because if they get out there, they can develop an appreciation for baseball,” Tuerffs said. “But they could be doing more for adults. I’m not sure what they could do to excite a 35-year-old guy--the hats were great, but what else can you do? Maybe they could get more into the nostalgia part of the game.”

A county advertising executive had this suggestion: “The reason I like Angel games is you can go for a beer and hot dog and be back in an inning because there’s not many people there. You can just have fun going to games. My wife has no idea what place the Angels are in, but if you can get her interested, she’ll bring the kids. There are reasons to go other than watching a first-place team.”

The executive didn’t like this year’s Angel theme song and commercial, played to the old Romantics hit, “What I Like About You,” and featuring highlights of great Angel plays.

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“Pro sports teams always seem to rely on some kind of old rock music,” he said. “I don’t understand why.”

But he liked the Angels’ strategy of highlighting stars from other teams that would be coming to Anaheim Stadium, which Sevano said the team would have done whether they were in first place or last.

“That’s smart marketing,” the advertising executive said. “They have guys to market--that’s their USP, unique selling proposition.”

As one might expect, the executive feels the Angels could do better using an outside ad agency to oversee and produce their campaigns. But Brown, the team’s president, is confident his own employees can do the job.

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“Baseball is very esoteric, and I’d rather use our in-house expertise rather than trying to teach an ad agency about the game,” Brown said. “To date, I’ve been extremely pleased with our creativity in marketing.”

And the fans have been extremely pleased with promotional giveaway items. From the hats to bats, umbrellas and pins commemorating Nolan Ryan’s no-hitters, the quality of promotional products has improved dramatically.

The Angels will also give away pillow cases, sports bags, T-shirts and wristbands and batting gloves this season. For Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, they gave restaurant coupons to adults.

“Our No. 1 goal was to give fans more bang for the buck,” Brown said, no doubt a slogan he wished extended to the Angel offense. “We want to give fans something they will cherish and that creates a public relations tool. If you give a quality hat, and a guy wears it to the mall, that creates publicity for our team.”

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Sevano said in past years, the team tried to generate revenue on giveaway nights by attracting bigger crowds and keeping costs down by putting little money into the item.

“In some cases, that left the promotion a little less than what we’d like to hand out,” Sevano said. “We decided in marketing, we’re not looking for a dime. We put everything into the product and promotion and tried to upgrade things. We also wanted people to look at things around the house and think of the Angels.”

The number of giveaway items has increased as well. The Angels have 39 promotional dates on this year’s schedule, compared to 18 last season and 21 in 1990.

“That could be because they knew they were going to be a tough draw, but at least they’re making an effort,” Tuerffs said.

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Tuerffs and Stubblefield, longtime friends and baseball fans who have traveled to 19 of 26 major league parks over the years, think the Angels can do more.

They would like to see them shed their conservative image and play lively--and contemporary--rock ‘n’ roll music more often. They want video dot races, a staple at many parks around the country.

They would like to see more mementos of Angel tradition around Anaheim Stadium. “As nightmarish as it’s been, we’ve still won three division titles,” Stubblefield said. They’d like to see the Angels wearing new uniforms. They’d like more radio and TV ads promoting the team during non-game hours.

“We’ve sat in parks all around the country and said to each other, ‘Why don’t the Angels do that?’ ” Stubblefield said. “Don’t they go to other stadiums and notice?

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“The music in Anaheim Stadium is better than the days of Shay Torrent and the phantom of the organ, but as much as the Angels have improved in that area and in marketing and promotions, they’re still behind the times compared to what other teams are doing.”


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