The long anticipated Mitchell report on steroid use in Major League Baseball was released today. Did the report unveil the names of big-time major leaguers associated with steroid use? Yes, most notably Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees. In addition to the few high profile players, the report named dozens of other current and former players as having acquired or used steroids.
The impact of the findings of the Mitchell report on MLB is not the list of names revealed. The impact on MLB will depend on how its leadership, especially commissioner Bud Selig, acts on the findings and recommendations. MLB is riding high, having just enjoyed its fourth consecutive season for record attendance in 2007. More than 79 million people attended MLB games this past season. The league is a money making machine at the moment, but perceptions that little or nothing is being done to remove the steroid culture from MLB could hurt the brand. As important as maintaining trust with fans who buy tickets for games, MLB must proactively manage the steroid issue to retain the value of MLB for its sponsors and broadcast partners. Their stakes in MLB are much higher than the everyday fan who shells out money for tickets and concessions.
The irony of the current situation is that many fans and sponsors driven away from MLB by the 1994 lockout were drawn back to the game by the single season home run chase by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998. McGwire and Sosa were two players already implicated in the steroid scandal, and their feats as well as many other players in recent years appear to be influenced in part by the use of performance enhancing substances. So, the steroid-enhanced thrills that brought some fans back to MLB may create distrust that pushes them away once again.