12/19/11 4:25 PM EST
Angels are banking on Pujols' star power
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
But Pujols isn't your typical player -- which is why you can't analyze his contract in typical fashion.
By paying Pujols about $70 million more than he paid for the entire team eight years ago, Angels owner Arte Moreno didn't just add arguably baseball's best hitter to his lineup, or a Gold Glove first baseman to his infield. He acquired a brand. An icon. A man whose mere presence can elevate an entire franchise, growing it with regard to attendance, merchandise sales, viewership, national appeal and, thus, overall revenue.
That was a big reason why Moreno -- the beneficiary of a new 17-year extension with FOX, which reportedly guarantees his club between $2 billion and $2.5 billion -- was OK with going over budget on Dec. 8, the day he spent more than $330 million on Pujols and left-hander C.J. Wilson.
"I'm not as young as I used to be, but I'm a marketing guy and I just thought, 'What's it mean to our fans to bring a player of this caliber here?'" Moreno said of Pujols. "That's when, all of a sudden, all your objectivity and budgets and stuff go out the window and you go, 'Can you really get this player?'"
The Angels were already what many would consider a big-market club, drawing more than 3 million in attendance for nine straight years and sporting nine-figure payrolls each of the past six seasons.
Prior to the 2011 campaign, Forbes valued the Angels at $554 million, ninth highest in the Majors.
Now, their value should only grow.
The Marketing Arm, a promotion agency with eight offices worldwide, previously ranked the Angels 21st among Major League teams in terms of national appeal -- slightly lower than the 20th-ranked Dodgers -- by way of the Sports Property Index, which quantifies consumer perceptions of nearly 1,000 sports properties, including leagues, teams, venues and events. With regards to SPI's "Excitement" attribute, the Angels were 25th.
That perception is almost guaranteed to improve, based on data The Marketing Arm collected about the Angels' new addition:
Pujols is currently recognized by about 40 percent of U.S. consumers, according to the Celebrity DBI, an independant index created by The Marketing Arm that quantifies consumer perceptions of more than 3,000 celebrities.
Of those who know him, 78 percent "like" him to some degree -- either "Like a Little," "Like" or "Like a Lot."
Of the DBI's eight attributes, Pujols' best score came in terms of "Influence," where he ranks 832nd in the DBI database -- on par with the likes of Steve Young, Ben Affleck, Sting and Phil Mickelson.
In terms of endorsements, he's No. 908 -- in the same neighborhood as Leonardo DiCaprio, Tim Duncan, Tim Lincecum and Dan Marino.
"The Angels have been a solid team the last few seasons," said Darin David, account director at The Marketing Arm. "But when you put a superstar on your team, that just changes the whole way they're perceived."
Especially on a national level.
The national intrigue
With Pujols in California, ESPN is now aiming to get the Angels on Sunday Night Baseball the maximum amount of times it's allowed -- five. The Angels hadn't maxed out on Sunday Night Baseball since 2004, and were on just twice while missing the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
Major networks are now scrambling to cover their games as often as possible.
There's also ESPN's Monday and Wednesday night telecasts, which the Angels will no doubt make plenty of appearances on. And there's FOX, which told The Los Angeles Times it's aiming to put the Angels on its Saturday broadcast nine times -- also the max for any team.
"The Angels have always been on our radar screen," ESPN vice president of programming Mike Ryan said, "but getting Albert Pujols just takes them to an entirely different level."
Angels sign Pujols, Wilson
The intrigue would've already been there with Wilson going from the Rangers to the division-rival Angels, in a move that should spice up a rivalry that has been rather uneventful since the Rangers began in 1972.
But it's Pujols who changes the dynamic.
"We didn't get the same recognition as the Red Sox and the Yankees with all the publicity and all that, but I think now we're going to start getting that with all the TV revenue and all that," Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos said. "I think it's huge just to bring a player like that, of his caliber and the type of player he is. He sells tickets. People want to watch."
The local interest
Most important to Moreno and the Angels, though, is to appeal to the club's actual fan base. And numbers passed along by the Angels' marketing department say that has so far been the case:
The Angels Team Store sold more than 2,000 units of Pujols and Wilson merchandise from the morning of the signings to the following Monday, Dec. 12.
During the weekend of the Pujols and Wilson press conference alone, the Store passed total revenues for all of December 2010.
In the two days after the deals, the club had already sold well over 1,000 seats and 500 online ticket packages.
Through the first week, 2,000 seats and 4,000 mini plans had been purchased.
In the end, of course, the Angels will draw based on how much they win. But they now have people's attention more than ever.
"This is a star-driven market," said Steve Mason, a radio personality in California for nearly 20 years. "If you look at Kobe Bryant and you look at Blake Griffin, and you look at what Pete Carroll did, and you look at what Matt Barkley did, David Beckham with the Galaxy, all the way back to Wayne Gretzky with the Kings, the way L.A. fans relate to their teams is through stars, probably because we're surrounded with all sorts of movie stars. So, the fact that the Angels have one of the great stars in the game in Pujols is a huge commodity, a way for us to talk about them."
The L.A. market
Seizing control of the greater Los Angeles area from the Dodgers is still a long shot, but it is now more possible than ever before.
The Angels are the last Southern California team to win a World Series (in 2002), but since the franchise's start in 1961, they've been beaten out by the Dodgers in basically every aspect -- playoff appearances (16-9), pennants (8-1), championships (4-1) and, for every season until 2011, overall attendance.
But the Dodgers' popularity has taken a considerable hit due to instability in the owner's box. Moreno would never admit it, but maybe he saw this offseason as the Angels' best chance to expand their reach in SoCal.
Maybe the Angels can unseat the Dodgers as Southern California's biggest draw.
Or, at the very least, put some pressure on the nearby franchise.
"The Los Angeles market is enormous, so I don't know that it's possible to unseat the Dodgers as sort of a heritage, Los Angeles team," said Mason, who has been teaming up with John Ireland since 1992, with the last eight years coming on ESPN Radio. "But the Angels are playing hardball, and whoever owns the Dodgers next, when that situation settles, is going to have to go big or risk losing the market, possibly, to the Angels."
All that aside, Pujols' age, the length of his contract and his recent trends make the risk of his signing an unavoidable subject.
Pujols, who turns 32 in January, is the only player in baseball history to notch 10 straight seasons with at least a .300 batting average, 30 homers, 30 doubles and 100 RBIs. But after hitting .327 with 47 homers and 135 RBIs in '09, he hit .312 with 42 homers and 118 RBIs in 2010 and .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs in 2011 -- season No. 11.
Last year's numbers may be a bit deceiving, though, considering Pujols batted .318 with 28 homers for the final four months of the regular season, then posted a 1.155 OPS in a playoff run that won him his second World Series title.
"I don't necessarily see it as a clear decline," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "I see Albert Pujols as the most consistent offensive player of his generation. ... I don't think we've seen the last great days of Albert Pujols."
The Angels have had mixed results with their most expensive free agents -- guys like Mo Vaughn, Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon and Gary Matthews Jr. -- but for them, the Pujols signing is quite unprecedented.
Throughout baseball history, though, three comparable, record-breaking deals offer vastly different case studies:
The Giants reeled in a 28-year-old Barry Bonds prior to the 1993 season with a six-year, $43.75 million contract. Bonds, the only player to ever win an MVP at age 40, gave that franchise more than it could've ever imagined: four playoff appearances through 15 great individual seasons, and an interest spike from home-run-record chases. But towards the end, of course, Bonds' name and reputation were tarnished by steroid allegations.
The Reds traded for a 30-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. in February of 2000, then signed him to a nine-year, $112.5 million contract. But injuries soon decimated Griffey, who only averaged 92 games per season from 2001-06, and the Reds got nowhere near the value they expected in return.
Alex Rodriguez signed a game-changing $252 million deal with the Rangers in 2000. Then -- after Texas struggled financially and in the standings, despite A-Rod's individual accolades -- he landed a 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees that's still the largest ever, and is perhaps the most comparable to that of Pujols. The big red flag for the Angels: A-Rod, who signed the deal just before his age-33 season, has already taken some serious steps back and isn't even halfway through.
Pujols' deal -- trumped only by that A-Rod contract -- includes a no-trade clause and 10 years of personal service after he retires, which would have him serve mostly as a consultant to Moreno. The three-time National League MVP would get $3 million for reaching 3,000 hits (he currently has 2,073) and $7 million for hitting a record 763rd home run (he has 445 right now), according to Yahoo! Sports.
If that happens, the Angels could reap some extra rewards in the contract's last and most nerve-wracking years.
It's Moreno's hope that by that point, Pujols' contract will have basically paid for itself.
"Arte obviously made the decision that whether it does or doesn't, it doesn't matter to him," Angels play-by-play voice Victor Rojas said. "He's going to take the chance in signing somebody like this, and hopefully the impact is felt at the gate and in merchandise sales and everywhere else. Pujols is certainly capable of that."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.