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Sports business – Steroid issue has little juice with fans

Published: Tuesday, February 15, 2005 12:22 AM EST
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Major League Baseball will find out soon whether its image has been hurt by the leaked San Francisco grand jury testimony in the BALCO steroid case or Jose Canseco’s book, in which he details alleged steroid use by a number of high profile players. Spring training camps will be in full swing by the beginning of next week in both Florida and Arizona and Commissioner Bud Selig, his owners and the players will learn this. Fans will boo and shout insults at Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds and other players who they think are on the juice.

But the fans won’t stay away. After all, fans are just interested in who wins, their fantasy leagues and how far the ball travels over the fence.

Baseball survived the 1919 Black Sox scandal, strikes and lockouts, collusion, franchise shifts and cocaine usage in the 1980s.

Sandy Alderson was the general manager of the Oakland A’s when Canseco was the star of that team. Alderson is now the executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner’s office and doesn’t seem to think Canseco’s book is a big deal. Alderson said last week he would be surprised if there was any significant follow-up investigation of Canseco’s charges.

There seems to be good reason for Alderson and baseball to look the other way. Very few people, outside of some sportswriters, columnists, radio talk show hosts, TV talking heads and the President of the United States care about steroid usage in baseball.

The game suffered no damage after the 1996 National League MVP, the late Ken Caminiti, came clean on his steroid usage in 2002. Caminiti told his tale to Sports Illustrated, but his story did not sully baseball’s image.

If Washington Mayor Anthony Williams really cared about the use of illegal anabolic steroids in baseball, he never would have pushed as hard as he did or spend a large amount of city money for a new stadium to land the Montreal Expos.

If over-the-air and cable TV network executives had any apprehensions about juiced up players, the game would not get one penny from them on either a national or local level. If radio stations and networks had some second thoughts about baseball, they would not bid for exclusive radio rights.

If advertisers and marketing partners were really worried about their corporate image being ruined by associating with baseball, they would have pulled their dollars out of the game a long, long time ago.

The hottest ticket in sports right now is for Opening Night in Boston, when the Red Sox get their championship rings and then play the New York Yankees. With little promotional time and no ownership, the Washington baseball club has sold far more than a million tickets for the 2005 baseball season.

The fans want to be entertained and root for the home team to win. Baseball people understand that neither the BALCO case nor Canseco will drive fans away. The fans always come back.

Evan Weiner is a national radio commentator on “The Business of Sports.”

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