Billboard King Hits a Home Run

Most fans dream of it, but Arturo Moreno actually did it and was the first Hispanic to buy a Major League Baseball team.

 

On May 15, 2003, Arturo Moreno became the first Mexican American to own a major sports team in the United States.  He then sold the Anaheim Angels for twice the price without having to build a new stadium. According to Forbes Moreno's estimated net worth as of  March 2013 was $1.15 billion!

Here's his back story...

Anaheim Angels fans who opened the sports page of the Los Angeles Times on December 10 were treated to a photo of owner Arturo Moreno – a spare grin on his lips – posing with the team’s latest acquisition, pitcher Bartolo Colon.

It’s the kind of image that many professional sports franchise owners live for – the team chief executive as visionary, boldly introducing an exciting addition to the roster – but it’s not the one that Mr. Moreno necessarily wants to emphasize.

“I’m all about the fans,” says the 56-year-old businessman back in in 2003, who bought the Angels from the Walt Disney Co. for about $184 million last spring. “People think I’m about building a team, and I am to a certain extent. We want to win, of course. But I’m really mostly about the fans, and I think people are coming to realize that.”

As he’s quick to tell anyone who asks, Mr. Moreno is himself a lifelong baseball devotee, and he says he was determined to bring a fan’s sensibility to the Angels’ ownership suite.

Outfielder Jose Guillen

Outfielder Jose Guillen batted .311 with 31homes and 86 RBIs in 2003

He endeared himself to the Angels’ faithful almost immediately upon purchasing the club, when he lowered the price of beer sold during games at Edison Field. It was at once a brilliant public relations stroke and an expression of unity with those in the stands.

An avid beer drinker himself, Mr. Moreno considers the occasional “cold one” an integral part of the traditional baseball experience, a point he drove home with gusto when introduced as the ball club’s new owner at a May 22, 2003 press luncheon.

“We’ll do our best to make everyone welcome. We want to make it an affordable experience,” he said at the time, before pulling out the keys to Edison Field and briefly holding them aloft. “It’s sort of like the American dream, I guess. I get to come to the ballpark and get a free beer.”

When asked if he was considering lowering the price of his favorite drink, he promptly responded, “I’m not thinking about it, I’m going to. I can do that, can’t I?”

Bartolo Colon and wife

Pitcher Bartolo Colon and his wife

His decision to cut the price of beer at Edison Field in all likelihood helped ticket sales in 2003. The Angels set a new single-season attendance mark of more than 3 million – an increase of 760,000 over the previous year’s total.

Still, Mr. Moreno realizes that cheaper suds will go only so far toward satisfying those in the bleachers. The Angels won their first World Series in 2002, and the euphoria from that championship having already faded in the wake of a comparatively disappointing 2003 campaign, the team’s fans – Mr. Moreno included – now want another Series win.

With that in mind, Mr. Moreno personally intervened in negotiations with Mr. Bartolo. The 30-year-old, free-agent right-hander was 15-13 last season with the Chicago White Sox and was a 20-game winner in 2002. Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan was Anaheim’s last 20-game winner in 1974.

Perhaps because of Mr. Moreno’s involvement, Mr. Colon ended up accepting a four-year, $48-million contract with the Angels – the second most lucrative deal in club history. It was the second high-profile signing in the span of two weeks, the Angels having inked free-agent starting pitcher Kelvim Escobar to a three-year deal valued at $18.75 million in late November of this year.

With the club’s pitching rotation now newly strengthened, Mr. Moreno says he believes the Angels will field an improved team in 2004.

“We don’t have a whole lot left to do,” he says, referring to off-reason roster moves. “I think we have a solid team. We’re still looking for a couple of pieces, but by and large the championship team [of 2002] is intact.”

Arturo Moreno

Edison Field was renamed Angel Stadium

Organizational changes have not been limited to the dugout, however. In mid-December 2003, Mr. Moreno announced that Bill Levine and Bill Beverage would join the Angels as limited partners. Both are former senior executives of Outdoor Systems, Mr. Moreno’s outdoor advertising company. Mr. Beverage had been acting as the Angels’ chief financial officer since May.

“Both gentlemen have been business associates and friends of mine for several years,” says Moreno, who maintains a controlling interest in the franchise. “They’ll provide a wealth of knowledge that encompasses the business spectrum. But perhaps more importantly, each shares the same passion and respect for the game of baseball that I do.”

Mr. Moreno is no newcomer to the economics of sports franchise ownership. He also owns a minority stake in the Phoenix Suns, a National Basketball Association team, and until recently held an ownership interest in Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks.

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