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I’m pretty fascinated by issues that have no real significance, and yet still generate a great deal of interest. Does it matter if Lindsay Lohan goes to rehab? Or if Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are no longer friends? It matters to them, I guess, but logically it shouldn’t matter to anybody else. These are media-driven fascinations. People like to read about drama, particularly when it’s not their own. Far more people will be interested if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie broke up than if they had another baby.

Baseball’s steroids issue is in this class of news. It is a media-driven story, only interesting because people love train wrecks. In reality, steroids have had no discernible effect on baseball’s business, nor will they.

Consider the reasons people go to a baseball game. Let’s try to break it down, in an admittedly unscientific way:

  1. Fans go to root for their team. Simple enough. People have emotional connections to their favorite team, and go to the ballpark purely to see their team win games. If anything, some of these fans would want their own players to take steroids, if that will increase their chance of winning a championship.
  2. Corporations host events and hold meetings at the ballpark. This is becoming more and more popular, and most fans probably don’t realize how much most teams rely on the revenues they bring in from these big companies. For the buyers, the game is almost secondary, as it simply serves as an elaborate backdrop.
  3. Casual fans and families go for a few hours of relaxing, wholesome entertainment. This is the sector that most people think will be affected, assuming that casual fans and families will spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere. The flaw in this thinking is the assumption that there is a similar product in most Major League cities. There are other forms of entertainment, but few with the charm of modern day baseball stadiums.

Do a scientific study of baseball’s business and you will come to the same conclusions. Attendance and league-wide revenues have not been effected by the steroids issue. Both have been heavily influenced by the economy, labor issues, and certain competition policies (i.e. the wild card and divisional playoffs), but not by any supposed loss of integrity due to players using performance enhancing drugs.

This story has been driven by the media, and eagerly consumed by readers due to the train wreck psychology discussed above. It is this same principle that drives reality TV. Not to say reality TV can’t be interesting (it almost always is), but society doesn’t place a lot of weight on who wins this season of Survivor. Doing so for steroids is simply misguided.

Feedback? Write a comment, or e-mail the author at shawn(AT)squawkingbaseball.com

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  1. on November 10th at 12:13 am
    jvwalt said:

    Well, steroids may not affect baseball’s business, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about them. Most PEDs do have side effects, some of them extremely serious; and if you don’t ban them, then a lot of people trying to earn their way up will feel obligated to take them to try to compete with all the other users. That’s the real impact of steroids et al: on the high schoolers, college athletes, and minor-legue wannabes who may be shortening their lifespans in a desperate attempt to get a sniff at the Big Show.

    On the other hand, I can see at least one economic effect of the steroid cloud that hangs over the game: the almost complete disregard for Barry Bonds’ home run chase this year. If not for the steroid suspicion, the Barry bonanza would have been just as big for baseball as the McGwire/Sosa race to 61. Instead, it was big in San Francisco, and ESPN tried mightily to shove it down our throats. But very few people gave a damn.

    Another arguable impact is on teams that sign players who stop using. That power-hitting free agent who suddenly loses 40 pounds of muscle mass and stops hitting home runs, or that relief pitcher who (as it turns out) was keeping himself injury-free through PEDs, and when he stops using, his arm falls off. That’s a significant lost investment, and a hole in the roster that needs patching. The PED cloud adds quite a bit of uncertainty to the already-uncertain process of player acquisition. Especially this winter, as we await the release of the Mitchell Report.

  2. on November 10th at 01:55 am
    melissa said:

    After the strike shortened season of 1994, the popularity of major league baseball suffered. It wasn’t until the Sosa/McGwire home run race of ‘98 that a resurrgence of fan interest was seen. It’s almost unequivocal that this race was steroid fueled. MLB and owners appeared to look the other way when it came to steroid abuse since the ending result was putting fans in the seats and increasing revenue. When the media started to expose the possibility that the power surge was not authentic that is when MLB decided it should address the issue. MLB sold the steroid fueled power surge and the backlash has yet to be felt. It may never be felt. The appearance of a crack down on steroids and p.e.d. by MLB shows that they feel like the economics of the game may be threatened if they don’t make the game appear “clean.” It can be theorized that by exposing the lack of integrity in the game due to steroids the media forced MLB to address the issue. MLB may have reacted quickly enough to prevent the fans from becoming disenchanted with the game and it’s juiced up players.

  3. on November 19th at 05:24 am
    Lee said:

    The point of this article is that steriods only have a negative effect on the game and its success (economically and otherwise) so much as the people paying to watch it and be involved with it actually reduce their consumption because of steroid prevalence. The reality is that anyone who has actually taken the time to read the scientific literature on the subject (and there is VOLUMES of it over 50 years of clinical and rectrational use) knows that steroids are FAR (orders of magnitude) less harmful than cigarettes and alcohol, two things people CHOOSE to consume for benefits far less significant than $25/million dollar per year contracts.

    This story is created and media driven because in our society its easy to jump on the “drugs are bad” and “what about the children” bandwagons, despite the fact that fully 35% of the US population has taken, tried or regularly used an illegal drug.

    Like all fear driven media campaigns that lack any scientific backing, eventually the campaign will die out because unless there are bodies actually manifesting themselves from teh steroid abuse (which there have been none EVER), people will quickly forget the media story in favor of watch the latest home run record being broken or their team winning a championship. And if you think im wrong, i would recommend rereading what the author said above: “Attendance and league-wide revenues have not been effected by the steroids issue”.

    And for those of you interested in taking the red pill and seeing how far this rabbit whole actually goes:


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