Brand Keys Update
by Robert Passikoff

Major League Baseball: 0, Steroids: 15 (January 2005)

After grand jury revelations that New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi and San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds used steroids, the MLB brand equity showed significant new brand weakness, according to the Brand Keys Sports Fan Loyalty Index.

MLB brand strength decreased by nearly 15 percent on the news of the steroid use. When it comes to athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs, that behavior erodes trust and weakens the bond that fans form with individual players and, therefore, loyalty in the MLB brand. When you speak of the trust placed directly in the players themselves and the bond created between players and their fans, unadulterated talent is the most important attribute in Major League Baseball.

Depending upon which of the four major sports leagues you look at, "fan bonding" makes a different contribution to brand strength, loyalty, and profitability. Fan boding makes the biggest contribution to Major League Baseball at 15 percent, which means that they have the greatest to lose if players somehow disappoint the fans. This is followed by the National Basketball Association with a contribution of 8 percent, and the National Football League and the National Hockey League with fan bonding making a 5 percent contribution to each.

In any category when brand equity is diminished, people shift their trust, loyalty and, shortly thereafter, interest and dollars. Major League Baseball has more to lose as today's fans have greater choice in terms of how they spend their free time. Fans (customers) can and will watch another major league sports, turn to golf or indulge their secret love of synchronized swimming, spend their money on concerts, movies and other activities and spectacles and licensed products, all of which are not baseball.

The negative effects are compounded in major league sports because when there is a loss of trust in a human flagship for the sports "brand", there are also negative effects to the loyalty to the team he plays for.

Negotiators for baseball owners and the players union are meeting in an attempt to agree on a stricter testing program for steroids and other performance-enhancing substances. Commissioner Bud Selig is demanding a program patterned after testing in the minor leagues, and Senator John McCain, has threatened to propose Federal legislation if players and owners can't agree on tougher testing.

However they settle things, the issues of loyalty will be ultimately decided by the fans.

Robert Passikoff is founder of Brand Keys Inc. (New York), a brand and customer loyalty consultancy. He can be reached at 212-532-6028, x12, or Visit for more.

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