The Houston Astros are unlikely to take a long-term financial hit from a pair of high-profile scandals that tarnished the franchise’s reputation despite a season that culminated in a World Series berth, according to a veteran sports industry executive.
Major League Baseball launched an investigation into the Astros earlier this week after The Athletic reported the team illegally stole signs during their run to the 2017 World Series. The report, which quoted former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, alleged that the Astros used a camera to capture signs and relay key information to their players to gain a competitive advantage.
The claims marked another setback for an Astros organization that was just days removed from another scandal that resulted in the firing of its assistant general manager, Brandon Taubman. While both incidents painted the Astros in an unfavorable light, the alleged sign-stealing – a practice often treated akin to gamesmanship rather than outright cheating – is unlikely to push corporate sponsors to cut ties with the franchise, according to Scott Rosner, a sports business consultant and professor at Columbia University.
“I don’t think that would do much, in this one-off scenario, in terms of sponsor damage,” Rosner said. “Can they be looked at as a brand as being a little tainted? Yeah, but they didn’t win, right? If they had won the World Series, maybe this taints it a little bit. But they didn’t win, so I don’t think there’s any real taint on it.”
During the 2017 season, the Astros were alleged to have installed a center-field camera at their home stadium, Minute Maid Park, that fed footage to a television near the team’s dugout. The team is said to have used signals, such as banging on trash cans, to warn hitters about which pitches to expect in the batter’s box.
MLB is expected to expand its investigation to examine whether similar practices were used by other teams, including the Boston Red Sox and the 2019 Astros during their World Series run. The league updated its rules ahead of the 2019 season in a bid to prevent teams from using video feeds to steal signs.
“We became aware of the allegations through news reports and are monitoring the situation closely,” a spokesperson for Waste Management Inc, an Astros sponsor, told FOX Business. “We cannot make any decision as to our sponsorship until the results of the investigation are made public.”
Representatives for the Astros’ other major corporate sponsors – Minute Maid parent company Coca-Cola, United Airlines, AT&T, Anheuser-Busch, DraftKings and Bank of America – did not immediately respond to FOX Business’ request for comment.
The Astros said the team has “begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball” in response to The Athletic’s report.
Rosner said the Astros’ initial handling of the situation involving Taubman, in which team officials initially accused Sports Illustrated of fabricating allegations that the former assistant general manager made inappropriate remarks to three female reporters after the Astros’ victory in the American League Championship Series, was far more damaging to their brand than the sign-stealing allegations. The Astros later issued an apology and fired Taubman.
“The combination of these two, what seem to be, completely separate issues or missteps in the last couple of weeks certainly is a bad look for the organization,” Rosner said. “There’s no question about that. Whether it has legs or not, it really depends on what is found.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.