Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno has opted out of his stadium lease, meaning the team is free to leave Anaheim after the 2019 season. This is very interesting, though probably not in the way that you might at first assume.
First off, the Angels are almost certainly not going to leave Anaheim after next season, if for no other reason that there’s nowhere to go. None of the other MLB-less options (Montreal, Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, etc.) are appealing demographically compared to Orange County; and it would take way more than a year and a half to get even a temporary stadium ready elsewhere in Southern California. (Talks about a new stadium in nearby Tustin collapsed in 2014 after Tustin officials realized how crazy much it would cost.) The only reason Moreno pulled the trigger now, team officials made clear, was that this was the only window the team had for opting out and renegotiating its lease, since the team’s lease said it was either yesterday or wait till 2028.
Just last year, though, Moreno had said that he wouldn’t trigger the opt-out now. So what changed?
“We’ll sit down with the new mayor and city council,” [Angels spokesperson Marie Garvey] said. “We also are going to look at all our options.”
Ah yes, the new mayor. Tom Tait, who has been the main obstacle to giving Moreno a whole mess of land that he can develop and use the proceeds to renovate his current stadium, is term-limited out after this year. So presumably the Angels owner smelled a better negotiating environment around the corner with a new mayor (and three new councilmembers) and figured he’d roll the dice.
That new mayor and council, though, would be well-advised to consider that Moreno isn’t in all that great a negotiating position himself. In opting out, he’s left himself without a guaranteed place to play in 2020, which means Anaheim elected officials would be fully within their rights to say, “How about you pay us more, and sign a lease extension to boot? If you don’t like it, I’m sure there are some lovely high school ballfields you can play on the season after next.”
That almost certainly won’t happen, if only because the “Anaheim council tells Angels to move out” headlines would look terrible. (Though maybe less terrible if the Angels finish in fourth place again.) But it is important to remember that lease leverage works both ways, and as we’re seeing with the Oakland Raiders mess, it’s not always easy for a team owner to follow through on threats to take his ball and go home. Garvey said yesterday that “we do have options” for a new home, but wouldn’t elaborate, which is a pretty transparent bluff after the Tustin debacle.
Anyway, the council has no one to blame for this opt-out but themselves, since they (or their predecessors, I guess) gifted Moreno with this option back in 2013 in exchange for absolutely nothing. One hopes at least they won’t double down on the stupid by negotiating themselves into a corner the minute the team owner points a gun at his own head and says, “Give me a new stadium or I’ll shoot!” It’s going to be a very interesting day after election day in Anaheim.