The Houston Astros cheating scandal has been unquestionably bad for business for Major League Baseball. And although MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred issued his findings from the Astros investigation in January, and the league has indicated its investigation is finished, the backlash lingers.
The league’s investigation found that the Astros engaged in a coordinated scheme to steal pitching signs using cameras and relay them to batters by banging on a trash can; the investigation resulted in the firing or resignation of three managers (Astros manager AJ Hinch, Red Sox manager Alex Cora, and Mets manager Carlos Beltran) and one general manager (Astros GM Jeff Luhnow), and the loss of future Astros draft picks.
According to a new survey, many fans feel it still isn’t enough.
The latest Seton Hall Sports Poll, first shared with Yahoo Finance, finds that 52% of Americans surveyed feel that MLB should take away the Astros’ 2017 World Series title, compared to just 35% who say it should not.
The poll is conducted by the Sharkey Institute at Seton Hall University and in the recent past has surveyed Americans on hot-button issues like college athletes getting paid endorsements, attitudes toward gambling on sports, and whether Pete Rose deserves to have his MLB ban lifted.
The latest poll surveyed 662 U.S. adults on landlines and cellphones last week, and has a margin of error of 3.9%.
Meanwhile, the research outlet Morning Consult on Monday said that the “favorability rating” of the Astros has fallen 12 basis points in the wake of the MLB report, pulling the Astros’ brand ranking from ninth among the 30 teams down to dead last.
It is an obvious black eye for the team, and Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer told Yahoo Finance last month said the scandal is a “huge black eye for the sport” as a whole. But Bauer does not think MLB should take away the Astros’ title: “It’s really hard to prove who used what, and when, and to what extent... There’s going to be people on both sides who say it’s too harsh or it’s not enough, but [Manfred has] done a decent job balancing everything.”
MLB has never stripped or “vacated” a title from a team after the fact—something that the NCAA does do to schools for particularly egregious violations—but the chorus of voices calling for it now has grown louder and is weighing on baseball just weeks away from the start of spring training.
Whether the scandal will hit MLB’s wallet is a different question that is also worth asking.
MLB league revenue hit a record high of nearly $11 billion last year, despite continued concerns over ballpark attendance. In 2018, MLB extended its TV rights contract with Fox through the 2028 season for a reported $5 billion. And big tech companies clearly still want in: Amazon joined Blackstone and Sinclair in a group last year led by the New York Yankees to buy YES Network back from Disney, which acquired it from Fox; Amazon’s involvement in the group reportedly will lead to Yankees games being streamed on Amazon Prime.
Despite the majority support reflected in the Seton Hall Sports Poll for stripping the Astros of their title, more respondents (38%) said they view steroids as more detrimental to the sport than sign-stealing (24%), while 31% said the two are equally bad, and 8% weren’t sure which is worse. Current L.A. Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood, for his part, tweeted out: “I would rather face a player that was taking steroids than face a player that knew every pitch that was coming.”
MLB’s separate report on the Boston Red Sox (who won the 2018 World Series under the leadership of manager Alex Cora, who played on the 2017 Astros team) is expected to come out this month.
Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and closely covers sports business. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.