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Will congressional hearing hurt baseball?
By David Nielsen
Scripps Howard News Service

March 17, 2005

Washington - As the accusations and questions about steroids in baseball continue to mount, congressional investigators are hopeful that they can uncover some answers at the hearing of the House Government Reform committee Thursday.

But no matter what commissioner Bud Selig, slugger Sammy Sosa and the rest of the witnesses say - or don't say - many question whether the steroid scandal will harm baseball's finances?

Jay Gladden, associate professor of sport management at the University of Massachusetts, thinks baseball's coffers will emerge largely unscathed.

"Personally I don't think there's going to be much impact on the bottom line," said Gladden. "The people who are paying money to consume different aspects of the baseball product, be it in the stadium, or on television, or the merchandise associated with it, there are a variety of reasons that they do that. I don't think the fact that some of the players that they've been watching have been taking steroids is going to cause them to stop following baseball."

Steroid rumors have been circulating around baseball for years, yet the national pastime has experienced a resurgence in popularity. Regular-season attendance soared to more than 30,000 per game last season, the third-highest mark in history. Then came a wildly popular postseason, fueled by the Boston Red Sox coming back from a 3-0 deficit to shock the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, followed by Boston sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series in 86 years. Television ratings for the World Series were the highest since 1999.

But baseball's euphoria this offseason has been marred by new allegations and revelations about players using performance enhancing drugs. Leaked transcripts from a grand jury investigation in San Francisco revealed that star players Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi admitted they used steroids, although Bonds claimed that he didn't know the products he was using were actually steroids.

Kevin Grace, who teaches a course at the University of Cincinnati called the Social History of Baseball, said that the steroid-related news has definitely hurt baseball's popularity.

"Baseball is suffering from it right now," Grace said. "There's the big debate about which records are valid now. Popularity is sinking and this isn't going to help any."

The full impact of the steroid scandal won't be known for some time, suspects Denver-based sports marketing executive Dean Bonham.

"My concern for the game is that the fans become so disenchanted with some of the game's most storied players and revered heroes having their names erased from the record books by chemically enhanced athletes," Bonham said. "There's a good chance that we'll lose a generation of baseball fans because the same interest level is not going to be there that we've seen in years past because fans are disenchanted.

"I'm not saying that's happening. But any logical person would be concerned about that happening. I think the problem is exacerbated by the fact that major league baseball has taken the position that they're not going to do something about chemically enhanced records."

Grace feels the scandal could actually boost attendance in the short run as Bonds continues his march up the all-time home run chart. Bonds (703 career home runs) needs 11 home runs to tie Babe Ruth (714) and 52 to match Hank Aaron's record of 755.

"As a matter of fact, it may increase attendance in some cities when Barry Bonds comes to town," he said. "You get a chance to boo him."

While fans may still flock to the ballpark, some image-conscious companies may think twice about dealing with baseball and those players who are identified as having used steroids.

"If a corporation is looking to receive image benefits from their affiliation with Major League Baseball, such as aligning with something that is quote unquote all-American or family oriented - certainly if that's one of the motivations that corporations have for getting involved is aligning with Major League Baseball to theoretically receive some image benefits, then it could impact Major League Baseball's sponsorship income with those companies," Gladden said. "In the aggregate, though, I don't think they're going to see a precipitous drop off.

"The only place where someone's wallet is going to be affected are those players who are negatively implicated. From a corporate perspective, you're not going to want to align with those players."

Bonham agrees that the scandal-tainted players will lose deals, but that baseball's financial picture should remain flush as long as it retains its popularity.

"Corporate America follows the fan, not the other way around," he said. "When fans stop tuning in and stop attending that's when corporate America will follow. If you have steroid issues or drug issues or whatever issue you have, but the fans continue to increase in number, then corporate America will stay where they are."


E-mail David Nielsen at nielsend(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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