More than half of Major League Baseball fans believe Houston Astros players should have been penalized along with team management in the aftermath of the sign-stealing scandal that has gripped the game over the past week, according to an online survey conducted among 1,010 adults, including 810 MLB fans, nationwide Thursday and Friday on behalf of ESPN.
Fifty-eight percent of adults responded that Astros players should have been penalized by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, according to the survey. In addition, the vast majority (72% of adults and 76% of MLB fans) said they would support MLB taking additional steps to punish players who were involved in sign stealing.
According to the survey, MLB fans are paying a lot of attention to the scandal, with 61% of the game's fans polled saying they are closely following events involving the Astros and Boston Red Sox. One-third of MLB fans say they might watch those two teams less, though most Americans say the doping/steroids scandal was worse than the current sign-stealing scandal that led the Astros to fire general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, with the Red Sox parting with manager Alex Cora, a former Astros bench coach.
The New York Mets were not involved in a sign-stealing scandal but parted with new manager Carlos Beltran, who was involved with the scandal while an Astros player. The survey was started before Beltran and the Mets parted.
Among avid MLB fans, 86% view the situation as serious, with 57% saying it's very serious, compared to 83% of the game's overall fans considering it serious, including 52% who say it's a very serious situation. Among all Americans, 77% find it serious, with 45% finding it to be very serious.
Most Americans say the doping/steroids scandal was worse than this one (49% say doping was worse vs. 24% who say the sign-stealing scandal is worse) but rank this scandal above Pete Rose gambling on his own team (44% say this scandal is worse vs. 25% for the Rose scandal).
While over half of Americans view both the Astros (56%) and Red Sox (52%) less favorably in light of the scandals, the negative impact is less severe for MLB, the players and the owners, with 54% saying their views of MLB itself are unchanged and 53% saying their views of the players haven't changed. Just under half (49%) say their views of the game's owners have not changed, although around a third or slightly more say they have a less favorable view of each of these entities or groups.
Among MLB fans, it's about an even split when it comes to whether the teams caught cheating should have their championships stripped, with 56% saying the Astros should relinquish their 2017 championship and 53% believing the Red Sox should do the same for their 2018 title.
While 60% of adults and MLB fans alike say the scandals make no difference in their likelihood to watch MLB games, around a third of fans say they are less likely to watch the Astros or the Red Sox.
Roughly 3 in 4 Americans (74%) and MLB fans (76%) believe most teams were using technology to steal signs, but it's just the Astros and Red Sox who got caught.
The survey was conducted by Global Strategy Group for ESPN on Jan. 16-17. It was weighted to known demographics based on the Census. The overall survey had a margin of error of +/-3%, and the margin of error among 810 MLB fans is also +/-3%.