According to Brand Keys, a New York-based market-research firm, MLB's loyalty index is just one point above the benchmark 100--well below its normal index of 111. "It's the first time Major League's numbers have been down that low," firm president Robert Passikoff tells Marketing Daily.
Brand Keys did a study just after the release of the Mitchell Report, which found that 86 players had used steroids to enhance their performance.
Passikoff says the loyalty index scores are based on interviews with self-classified baseball fans, drawn from 30 markets. The index's parameters for fan loyalty are pure entertainment, authenticity, fan-to-player bonding and history and tradition.
The Brand Keys study also says that for the first time baseball's index on "History and Tradition" as a driver of fan loyalty is down, from 110 to a 107. Passikoff says that is a critical psychological measure of the brand. "If [MLB] is strong in history and tradition, it can virtually guarantee a loyal fan base," notes Passikoff. "That's why fans remain loyal to teams who have been perennial losers."
The league has rolled out MLB President/COO Robert DuPuy to answer e-mails from fans, and several players have talked. Alex Rodriquez--who was not named in the report--went on "60 Minutes" on Sunday to deny ever having used steroids, and former Red Sox reliever Brendan Donnelly denied the Mitchell Report allegations that he had used them.
Passikoff says the indices for Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, and the National Basketball Association correlate "extremely highly" with TV viewership and purchase of licensed team merchandise.
"Given that sports fans are not exclusive in terms of time they allocate watching games or how they spend money on licensed sports merchandise, there is no way effects are neutral; it eats away at the foundation of authenticity of the game."
He says it will make the MLB work harder to garner sponsorship deals. "Nothing demands you need to use baseball players. There's never ever any problem locating these audiences from a media-touchpoint perspective; yes, there may have been a time when [a major advertiser] had to be on baseball. Not any more. People have more things to do with less discretionary money. It goes back to 'don't piss off your consumer'."