Marks

Mark. (n) 1. A person who believes wrestling matches to be real. Dates back to wrestling’s roots in carnivals where the targets of carnival scams were referred to as “marks.” Some sources say in the carnival days, when an operator of a scam spotted a real sucker, he would mark his back with a piece of chalk, thus literally “marking” the “mark.” Other sources say the term comes from the idea of “hitting the mark” successfully, with the idea being the scam was aimed at the vulnerable sucker, and when it worked, it hit the “mark.” 2. A fan of or participant in the wrestling industry who believes in whole or in part that any aspect of the wrestling industry is more important than making money (i.e. a wrestler could be referred to as a mark by a promoter or other wrestlers for being preoccupied with fan-perception (such as holding a title belt) more than being concerned with being paid what he is worth.); (n, slang) A person who believes they are an expert on the wrestling business based on limited knowledge of the inner-workings of the sport; derogatory.

From PWTorch.com


This may come as a shock to some of you, so brace yourself for a cold hard truth.

Professional baseball is a business.

After media reports that the Mariners are about to sign Chone Figgins to a four-year deal, one fan site is attempting to brand Figgins a traitor.

Two weeks ago, after the Angels dismissed longtime broadcasters Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler, someone started an online petition to save their jobs.

The Angels also dumped three other longtime employees — 17-year equipment manager Ken Higdon, Communications Director Nancy Mazmanian and Community Relations Manager Matt Bennett.

The comings and goings of employees are everyday events for a business of any size, but for some reason most fans don’t seem to realize that professional baseball is a business.

The primary purpose of business is to make a profit by separating customers from their money, while keeping expenses as low as possible.

Major League Baseball paints itself as a pastime, a means of amusement, certainly not a business, therefore its monopolistic ways should be exempt from anti-trust law.

We are supposed to believe that by investing our hard-earned money in the nearest geographically located franchise, we are somehow bringing honor and glory to our community — and, by extension, to ourselves. When that team doesn’t win, a lot of customers act as if they’ve been betrayed, taking to the Internet to demand that heads roll, as if discovering that a spouse has been unfaithful.

The owners of these franchises are merely acting as good stewards of our community honor. They’re benefactors, philanthropists. Arte Moreno was instantly branded a regular guy because he slightly lowered the price of ridiculously overpriced beer down to somewhat-less-than-ridiculously overpriced.

The key word there is “branding,” because that’s exactly what a businessman would do.

According to marketing consultant Laura Lake, “branding is not about getting your target market to choose you over the competition, but it is about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem.”

According to Lake, “The objectives that a good brand will achieve” are:

  • Delivers the message clearly
  • Confirms your credibility
  • Connects your target prospects emotionally
  • Motivates the buyer
  • Concretes User Loyalty

Note that branding is supposed to get you to react emotionally — not logically — to a product, and “concrete” your loyalty to the brand regardless of actual product provided.

Make no mistake, Moreno understands all about branding.

According to his Wikipedia entry, Moreno graduated from college with a marketing degree, and built a billboard business called Outdoor Systems.

In September, Forbes ranked Moreno as #395 on its list of 400 richest Americans, with an estimated wealth of $970 million.

Branding was a large part of MLB’s successful effort over the decades to deny their employees the right to seek employment elsewhere. The reserve clause was used to keep baseball wages low by enslaving a player to one team for life; he could only escape if released from the contract, which probably meant he no longer had value. Baseball fans bought into this nonsense because we were peddled the notion that professional baseball wasn’t a sport, it was a pastime, and the owners were motivated only to bring glory to our community.

Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally helped bring down the reserve clause. Player salaries soared, which only meant they were now being paid what they were worth. No one squawks when Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt is paid $20 million to make a movie, so why should people be upset if Chone Figgins takes a more lucrative deal with the Mariners for $36 million over four years?

Yes, Virginia, baseball is a business. It’s the entertainment business.

This starry-eyed fan had his eyes opened back in 1985 when I was doing a one-year internship with the City of Anaheim as part of my Masters Degree in Public Administration. I was assigned to the City Manager’s office, working for an assistant city manager who really knew nothing about baseball yet was assigned as the office’s liaison with the Angels. I quickly volunteered to help her with Angels-related projects.

The stars fell from my eyes once I saw how the Angels truly operated behind the scenes.

You may recall that in those days the Angels were owned by former singing cowboy Gene Autry. Literally one of the silver screen’s “white hat” (good guy) cowboys, Autry parlayed that image — brand, if you will — into a lucrative entertainment empire. According to Wikipedia, Autry for many years was on the Forbes list of 400 richest Americans, as is Moreno today.

The City of Anaheim lured Autry’s Angels to Orange County by building a stadium that opened in April 1966. Make no mistake, this was a business deal on both sides. Anaheim was the landlord, the Angels the tenant, and as in any landlord-tenant relationship disputes arise over time.

The Angels had no contractual right to sole occupancy, but then the taxpayers of Anaheim had put their good faith and credit at risk to build a ballpark for Autry. Anaheim issued bonds to pay for the stadium that would take 35 years to pay off. The lease paid part of that, a percentage of ticket sales another part, but also leasing the facility for other events. That revenue also had to pay for routine maintenance and eventual rehabilitation of infrastructure.

When Anaheim lured the Rams from Los Angeles, part of the deal was to enclose the stadium for football to increase capacity. As an incentive, the Rams were also offered the option to develop part of the stadium parking lot into an office complex.

Shortly after the deal was announced, the Angels filed suit. Autry claimed he was blindsided by the deal, and was aghast that his fans might have to park in a concrete structure instead of a flat open surface.

Working inside the City Manager’s Office, I saw documents which proved Autry was a liar.

Autry’s Angels executives were regularly briefed on Rams negotiations. They had shown no interest whatsoever. In fact, they seemed to like the idea because the stadium capacity would increase from about 42,000 to 65,000, meaning more tickets to sell. And if truth be told, the Angels rarely drew enough spectactors to use those parking spaces that would be in the structure.

Some speculated that the executives had failed to keep Autry informed, which seems rather implausible.

What convinced me Autry was lying was that, while publicly saying he didn’t want his customers to park in a supposedly dangerous structure, privately his lawyers were offering to drop the lawsuit if Anaheim would give Autry ten acres of the parking lot to build a museum. So it was clear he didn’t give a damn about fan safety and convenience. He wanted a piece of the pie after the fact.*

Autry also entered Anaheim politics, contributing to City Council candidates who would direct the City Manager to capitulate in the lawsuit.

So more than 20 years later, when Moreno changed the team’s name from Anaheim Angels to “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” to technically comply with a provision in his lease, it all sounded very familiar.

Anaheim had agreed to tear out the Rams seats and renovate the stadium in exchange for Disney, which bought the Angels from the Autrys, promising to keep “Anaheim” in the team name. According to media reports, Moreno made no more than a cursory attempt to get city officials to agree to let him change the name to “Los Angeles Angels,” a new brand for his product. When city officials said no, he simply faxed them a notice announcing the name change on a Sunday night when no one was in the office.

Moreno ultimately won in court, the judges ruling that he had complied with the literal wording of the contract, even if the city had a different understanding with the prior owners.

Autry and Disney were not kindly benefactors. They looked out for their own interests. It is no different with Moreno.

So fans shouldn’t be shocked or disappointed when Moreno changes the brand, when he fires two loyal and fan-friendly broadcasters, when he lets go three dedicated longtime employees because it benefits his bottom line.

Unlike them, Chone Figgins has a talent that will bring him millions of dollars on the open market. That reflects more our culture’s skewed priorities; we pay grade school teachers about $40,000 a year while we pay an athlete $9 million a year to steal bases or an actor $20 million to appear in a film. Entertainment is more important to our culture than education.

The Angels have raised ticket prices again for 2010, with seats behind home plate going for up to $85 per game. When I attended my first Angels game on a hot Sunday afternoon in 1966, our tickets were $5.00 each to sit behind home plate on the field level. Upper-deck seats were $2.50. The Angels often played Sunday doubleheaders back then, so $2.50 for eighteen innings of baseball was a pretty good deal.

Prices have gone up, simply, because we are willing to pay those prices.

If we didn’t, teams wouldn’t have the money to pay a free agent $20 million a year over five years. But we do, because for some reason we have this need to connect a team’s success to our egos.

Branding will do that.

I long ago stopped paying to attend major league ball games. I’ll pay for minor league games, where tickets in most parks are under $10. I’d rather support the young players making $1,200/month because it’s a tough life and they need all the support they can get.

Professional wrestling calls a “mark” a paying customer who falls for the illusion that the entertainment is real, that loyalty to a particular brand or wrestler is more important than realizing he’s just a performer playing a role, and has the same imperfections as everyone else.

“Mark” applies just as well to professional baseball. To MLB owners, you’re a mark. They want you to wear your team’s logo, spend $42 for a cap that probably cost something like $2 to make in an Asian sweatshop, pay $85 for that seat behind home plate so you can scream profanity at Derek Jeter while waving madly at the center field camera and bragging to your buddy on the cell phone that you’re on TV.

If you want to be a mark, they’ll gladly take your money.


UPDATE December 13, 2009 — I ran across a comment posted on a fan board basically claiming I’ve made up the above passage about Autry wanting a piece of the parking lot while publicly claiming he was protecting the fans.

It’s been almost 25 years, but I distinctly remember when and how it happened.

The City of Anaheim, the Angels and the Rams had been in negotations to reach a settlement. City officials thought they had a tentative agreement. I remember coming to work and being told “We were burning the midnight oil” to craft the settlement.

Then Autry’s lawyers showed up and demanded a part of the parking lot for Autry to develop. They said if the City did not immediately capitulate, they would hold a press conference and accuse City Manager Bill Talley of fraud.

Talley stood his ground on principle, so the Angels went ahead and held their press conference to accuse him of fraud.

I just did some Google research to see what, if any, of this might be available online. The Register archives only go back to 1987, and you have to pay to see those articles, but I did find some articles online from the Times.

Click here to read an article from the November 24, 1986 edition of the Times. Here are some excerpts that pretty much vindicate what I said:

According to [Rams lawyer] Augustini, Autry has “boxed” himself in with his repeated public statements that the Angels are fighting the City of Anaheim, the Rams and the developer, only because the ballclub cares about not inconveniencing fans with high-rise parking garages on the stadium lot.

Augustini, who has argued along with city officials that Autry filed the lawsuit because he was not cut in on the development deal, called the notion that fan inconvenience is the only real issue “a tough one to swallow.” Nonetheless, he said, now “we all sort of have to pretend that it’s probably true. (Because) his principal interest now is what his public statements have been.

“Now, I think they just have a mess. I think they started wanting to have a position like the Rams. As a result of litigation, he was forced to say he didn’t want that. He wants the parking lot. Now, they’re stuck. We are doomed to litigate this forever unless Autry backs off a little.”

… Talley said he did not deal with Autry when the deal with the Rams was negotiated. He said he spoke with Red Patterson and Buzzie Bavasi, who were then the ballclub’s top officials.

“If it offended Mr. Autry, we offer an apology,” Talley said. “But we did what they asked us to do.” Talley said no one from the Angels organization ever said Autry was the only one to be contacted about projects affecting the stadium. 

This confirms my recollection. City staff dealt with Red Patterson on the matter. I did not mention Patterson earlier because I was not aware it had been released publicly who was to blame for allegedly failing to pass along information to Autry. But as I indicated above, I find that rather hard to believe, because if that was the Angels’ argument then they were basically saying that Patterson failed to do his job.

A March 21, 1986 Times article reporting Autry’s court testimony illustrates this point:

In an effort to show that Autry had delegated most of the responsibility for running the stadium to other Angels officials, Michael Rubin, attorney for Anaheim, catalogued a list of projects that been proposed for the parking lot and asked if Autry recalled them: a drag strip, a railroad station, an airplane runway and a park-and-ride facility.

“I don’t know if I do remember, Mr. Rubin,” was Autry’s usual reply. “But if you’d like to refresh my memory, I’d be happy to try.”

With each negative answer, Rubin presented documents and blueprints that, he contended, showed that the plans existed and that Autry’s staff was involved with the city’s proposal.

“We have already established that Red Patterson and Buzzie Buvasi (two former Angels administrators) knew all about this development proposal in 1978, before it was agreed to,” Rubin said in an interview after Autry’s testimony. “Mr. Autry’s repeated point is that ‘They should have come to me, and the city should have known that what my staff did didn’t make any difference.’

“Having chosen to have the staff run the business from Day One, it’s only to be expected that the people the city would go to in discussing this development would be the people they went to from Day One,” Rubin said.

So either (1) Patterson withheld information from Autry, (2) Autry ran an inept business, or (3) Autry lied about his knowledge of the project.

As for the fraud allegation, a judge threw that out in August 1991. I found a January 1994 interview with Talley in which it states he had a lawsuit pending against the Angels alleging “the Angels conspired to put pressure on the city council and oust him” which, again, is my recollection of events.

As for my claim that Autry attempted to influence candidates with campaign contributions, this October 1992 Times article documents Autry’s political donations in Anaheim.

The same article notes the conclusion of the original lawsuit. Superior Court Judge Frank Domenichini ruled that “the city must keep 12,422 ground-level parking spaces at the stadium for the Angels, but could build on the remaining land.” The judge concluded that all Anaheim had to do was provide the number of ground-level spaces available in the original lease, but otherwise Anaheim and the Rams could move ahead with development.

If you’ve been to Angel Stadium, you know there’s no such development on Orangewood. That’s because the economics of the proposed project changed over the years. Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom drowned shortly after reaching the deal with Anaheim to move his football there from Los Angeles. His wife, Georgia Frontiere, inherited the team. The Rams were one of several investors in the project, and over time I think it just didn’t make sense economically for them any more, especially after the years of lawsuits. The Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995.


UPDATE December 16, 2009 — I posted a sequel today to the “Marks” article. Click here to read.

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