Interview conducted by Chuck Richter
I had the chance to chat over the phone with the Angels team president Dennis Kuhl yesterday and we talked about several items that pertain to Angels Baseball, the business side and got to know the man behind the scenes that makes the experience for Angels fans all the more enjoyable.
On behalf of everyone at Angelswin.com, I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to conduct this interview with us.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - So, Dennis, let’s start off with a little background on Dennis Kuhl and how you and owner of the Angels Arte Moreno met.
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - Arte and I attended the University of Arizona together. We were fraternity brothers in Tucson. Arte and I became friends and ended up in the billboard business together, working together for 30 years. Arte sold the business, I stayed on for a while and Arte was looking for something to do. He was always a tremendous baseball fan. Even in college, we played on pick-up teams, C League teams; anything that had to do with baseball, we both enjoyed it. We’d go to games, we’d go to Anaheim and watch ball games or spring training games at Hi Corbett Field (in Tucson). We always loved it and Arte had the opportunity to buy a team. We had worked together for years and we’d become friends. I was fortunate to have Arte ask me if I would help him come down and run the team. I said absolutely, a dream come true.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - What has it been like working for Arte Moreno over the years?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - One of the things about Arte that I really admire is that he’s a real visionary. He looks out 4-5 years. He has a vision of what he wants things to look like, how he wants the team to look. He's a great visionary. Myself and John Carpino — he's another one of us who worked in the billboard business and we worked together for years. We brought him down to be in charge of marketing. He’s one of the most creative guys I’ve ever known — John and I are the guys that have to put Arte's vision to work on a day-to-day basis. He’s already thinking what do we have to do next. What do we have to do three years from now? How do we want to look? Guys that are successful are good visionaries. Working for Arte for so many years you understand that. You almost know what he’s going to do after working closely with him for so many years.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - What are Dennis Kuhl’s responsibilities as the Angels Team President?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - As team president I oversee everything that doesn't happen between the white lines. That means marketing, community affairs, all of the concessions, all the ticketing, all of the financials, all of the personnel, all of the sponsorships — anything that it takes to run a business. It’s about generating revenue, watching your expenses and trying to bring a profit to the bottom line. I’m very fortunate that Arte lets me in on what’s going on the baseball side. Tony does a great job, we all communicate daily. We all have an open policy here; everybody talks.
When you have 40,000 people come into your home every night, you want to make sure they’re taken care of, they’re fed, they’re parked and they’re having a good time. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re building that same experience. That’s watching your concessions to make sure they’re affordable, that's making sure you have the right merchandise, the right food, affordable pricing, you’re selling tickets, bringing groups in, doing all the stuff in the community that you need to do, doing outreaches, selling your sponsors, all of your signage throughout the stadium, merchandise sales in the team store, all of that on the business.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - Wow you have your hands full, huh?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - I do have my hands full. It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge. Every day there is another challenge out there to make the Angels experience even better.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - True, like every good job or challenge, it’s good to have surrounded yourself around solid people.
A: (Dennis Kuhl) – That’s right and when you have somebody like Arte, you know his direction, it’s a lot easier because you know what he wants and how he wants to go with it. He’s really a perfectionist, he really is and we always move forward. We know that and we always move forward.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - Do you see AM 830 KLAA Angels Radio as a success after a year of being on the airwaves? Anything new in store for AM 830 in 2009 or beyond?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - We see all of that as moving forward, every day getting better and better. That’s a new project that I’m overseeing. It’s been a real interesting experience for me because it’s something that I’ve never done before. But when you put the right people in the right positions. it makes it a lot easier. I feel like we’ve been fortunate. I’m real happy with the talent, like Jeff Biggs, Roger Lodge and Dave Smith — I think they’re good. I think we have a long way to go, but we’re making headway. Our deal with KFWB is something new and exciting because we want to make sure everybody can listen to the station. It’s just another outlet for us. I think everyone wishes they could broadcast their own games.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - Yeah, it has been a pleasure working with Paul Sakrison and Julio Morataya at AM 830. By the way, we’re all thankful for your interest in our content that we’ve supplied for the AM 830 Website going on a year now.
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - Thank you for the content, it’s great. It just enhances everything. I like the idea. The big thing now for a Website to work is that it needs content — and good content — and that’s what you’ve supplied for us. It helps both of us out.
Julio has been after me for bringing him on. I love Julio Morataya’s ideas; he’s very creative. Radio is about promotion and promoting your radio station. They've taught me a lot. They work with anybody, Paul and “Pollo,” the guys, they share ideas together, the guys come up here and say, “We got this great idea, what do you think?” I say, “Let's go, let’s make it happen.” So, just great guys to work with.
Q: (Angelswin) - A couple Tuesdays ago, we had two of our writers Adam Dodge and Eric Denton on the air live with Jeff Biggs and they had a great time on Angels radio.
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - Jeff Biggs is a great guy, isn’t he? I really, really like Jeff. He does a really good job at 830. He has a tough job sometimes at night with some of the testy callers. He had one guy on last night and I said, “Come on, Jeff, get him off the air.” (laughs) Radio has been a real treat.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - Can you measure how successful the name change has been in terms of increased revenues?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - Well, no you really can’t measure that yet. It’s tough to measure something like that. We just feel it has opened doors for us from the standpoint of it has gotten us larger accounts. We feel that we’ve gotten our name on the map. It is going to take a long time. To me, it’s all about building the brand. We’re more concerned with building the “A,” the color red and “Angels.” That's what we’ve focused on since we’ve got it.
I look at brands out there all the time. The Yankees have one of the greatest brands; they’ve never changed their uniforms, they’re the same all the time. I just think they’ve done a tremendous job with their brand. The Dodgers and Lakers have a great brand; I watched them and see how they’ve branded their name. It just takes a long time. It didn’t happen overnight for the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers or Lakers. It didn’t happen overnight, it takes a lot of years to build your brand.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - How does Angel merchandise sales rank in relation to the rest of Major League Baseball? What are the annual sales in dollars?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) – We’re right up there in the top-10 from what I understand, from the information I’ve received.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - What has been the impact of the recession on advertising, corporate suite renewal and season ticket renewal and how will this affect the Angels 2009 revenues?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) – Well, you know, (sigh), we feel very confident that the people have supported us very well here in Orange County and our sales are — we’re going to see a little bit of an effect, but we’re real optimistic that we’re going to do real well this year from that standpoint. To give you an idea about sponsorships, instead of having one or two huge sponsors, we’ve had to work harder at going out and finding four to five more sponsors. It’s just you adapt to the economy and you adapt to what is going on. We will do things, we will really work hard on group sales to fill the stadium, we’ll work hard on anything else we can to get people to come see a game. It is going to affect everybody and I think the biggest thing I hear out there is that people are just being cautious right now. But a baseball game is a fun thing to do, it's a family thing to do and I still think that people love the game so much that they’ll come out. Maybe they won’t come out 10 times a year, but they’ll come out eight times a year.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - Especially coming after a 100-win season. You know, spring training comes around and the excitement is in the air, they just can't wait for the season to start and get out to the ballpark.
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - I know, it's just amazing that it renews the passion every year and baseball to me is a year-round sport because you talk about it. There is no other sport like it. My dad and I would sit down and talk — my dad was a St. Louis Cardinals fan and I just love listening to the radio when we go back to Illinois and the passion that the St. Louis Cardinals fans have. And they talk about it all year long. Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, all of those guys.
People, when I'm out speaking, they’ll say, “I just want to let you know I’m a Dodgers fan,” and I say, “That’s great. Look, if you're a baseball fan, that’s what counts.” We want to make sure that the kid that’s 5 years old, he’s going to be 7 years old, then 13 years old, then 18 years — that’s where we’re going to build up that image. You become a fan of the team and you follow that team through good times and bad times. I grew up back east and I followed the Yankees. I still follow the players; I check out the starting lineups, I have a bunch of Baseball Digest books. I like to read these old baseball books to see how this guy turned out or what happened to that guy; he was a can't miss, he was a phenom. This game is so much fun to follow; so much fun. Even during our Angels Tonight program, the people want to talk. Last year, the guys said they did OK when we first introduced it, but now there are callers on hold before Angels Tonight goes on the air. The people want to talk baseball. How’s Kendry doing? How’s Escobar doing? It just amazes me how knowledgeable these people are about this sport. I love it.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - Any stadium renovation plans? Any chance of team opting out of lease in 2016?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) – We’re always looking at new ideas, new processes. We don’t have anything on the drawing board right now. We spent a lot of money on the scoreboard, new seats. It takes a lot of money to maintain a stadium this size. We do a lot of maintenance work year round. Right now, we’re trying to clean it up for the All-Star Game in 2010 to look sharp. I can't wait. As far as the lease, we haven’t gotten that far. That would be something you’d have to talk to Arte about. Right now, I’m just trying to run the day-to-day business.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - If approached, would Arte consider working on bringing football to the Orange County/L.A. area?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - Arte gets approached on a lot of things and I can tell you right now that Arte’s focus is baseball. He’s a fan first and owner second. I've been out with him drinking some beers and we talk baseball for hours. Just look up in the suite and we’ll be talking baseball during the game; sometimes in the wee hours in the morning. It is so much fun to be up there and second guessing Mike Scioscia during every game. It is so much fun.
Q: (Angelswin.com) – Speaking of the games, let’s talk Angels Baseball on the field now. I’m sure you’re pleased with the signing of Bobby Abreu, that it will put to rest the Manny to Anaheim rumors. What does Dennis Kuhl think of the Angels chances in 2009 with the team that’s in Tempe right now?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - Yes, it will. But you know Dave Smith, he’ll still bring Manny up. He won’t let that die. Every morning when I come to work, “What about Manny Ramirez?” — he’s too much. He’s a great guy.
Bobby Abreu makes us better. He’s got a great attitude, he fits into the team really well, great work ethic. I love his plate discipline very much. Getting on base before the big guys, and he can run, fits right into Scioscia's mold. He loves guys that can get on base and run.
As far as 2009, you know everybody keeps saying “we need a bat, we need bat.” I’m telling you, I think it’s time that one of our young guys breaks out and has a big year. I don’t know which one it’s going to be, but it’s time. Look at our lineup, Chuck, it’s a nice start with Figgy, Abreu batting second, Guerrero, Hunter and Morales fifth, some nice sticks in there, Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli. I think Rivera is going to have a huge year for us. I think Howie Kendrick strokes the ball very well. He’s a great kid. He’s a fine ball player. We got two great shortstops in camp, too.
Q: (Angelswin.com) – We’re set to air Angelswin.com’s “Top-50 Greatest Moments in Angels Baseball” on AM 830 this spring. What has been Dennis Kuhl’s Angels Greatest Moment you’ve witnessed as a fan since you’ve been president of the team?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - My greatest moment is the first time as team president on Opening Day. I was down on the field and I’m saying to myself, “I’m standing here on Opening Day as part of a Major League organization — it doesn’t get any better than this.” Next time it will be when we win the World Series again. That will be my next greatest moment. Last year was great — 100 wins. That was great. We have a strong pitching staff. I can’t wait for opening day, just like the rest of the fans. Same for Arte.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - Now that Garret Anderson and Francisco Rodriguez have left via free agency, two of the fans’ favorite players, John Lackey and Vladimir Guerrero, are in the final year of their contracts. How important is it to the Angels to sign these two All-Stars to an extension going forward?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - You know, that decision and those decisions are made by Tony Reagins and his staff. They evaluate and make recommendations to Arte. Boy, Guerrero, I feel like he’s been here forever. He’s been here since I got here. Same with Lackey, he’s been here since before I got here. I think they both have enjoyed their stay here and I believe they want to stay on as Angels to finish their careers. Tony, coaches and scouting, they make those determinations.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - One of the most respected men, with more than 30 years in the Angels organization and friend of mine, Tim Mead, must be a pleasure to work with on regular basis. Was Tim a valuable resource to both you and Arte on the history of the franchise because of his tenure in the organization?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) – He’s our archive guy. Every time we have a question on a player or anything, we go to Tim and Tim doesn’t even have to look it up. He knows. He has a wealth of knowledge. You’d never meet a nicer guy in your life. Sometimes I tell him “You’re too nice.” (laugh) He’s been unbelievable with handling the alumni, unbelievable with all of the milestones and knowing the players. He’s a great asset. He’s so involved with the community; he’s loved by everybody here. He’s a true Angel.
Q: (Angelswin.com) – Let’s wrap this up with a little bit about Dennis Kuhl the person. What does Dennis Kuhl like to do for fun when he’s not working?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - I love to ski. I still play baseball, hardball, in a senior league every Sunday. I figure if I can still do it, that’s great. My release is whenever I can get out to the mountains, the snow. You’re by yourself and it’s quiet. It energizes me. On Sunday, we play baseball. All of us are Angels fans. We talk Angels baseball all through the game. Sometimes I bring my radio and we’ll listen to the game while we’re playing. It’s loads of fun. You know, play on Sunday and get out of bed on Wednesday.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - What are your favorite sports teams not named the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - My No. 1 team I follow besides the Angels is the University of Arizona basketball and football teams.
Q: (Angelswin.com) - Favorite beer?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) - I can’t tell you that because I have too many beer sponsors. I drink them all. Let’s put it this way: I never had a beer I didn’t like.
Q: (Angelswin.com) – Let’s wrap this up. Last question: What would you like to say to the daily readers and contributors of Angelswin.com, who will be reading this interview?
A: (Dennis Kuhl) – We’re all looking forward to a great season. We love our fans; fans are number one. I wish I could go around and thank them all for their support. It’s really great when I can go out to the ballpark and see smiling faces, kids smiling. We’re fan strong, that’s what we are. Everywhere we go in Orange County or Los Angeles, people love the Angels and that makes me feel good.
This concludes our interview with Dennis Kuhl, to which now after our chat is known by me as Dennis "Cool".