What Ohtani scandal means for his career, fans and team: U-M experts can comment

March 29, 2024
Shohei Ohtani. Image credit: Mogami "Tosa" Kariya, Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed
Shohei Ohtani. Image credit: Mogami “Tosa” Kariya, Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed


University of Michigan experts are available to discuss the scandal involving Los Angeles Dodgers player Shohei Ohtani, the two-way sensation and two-time American League Most Valuable Player, and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, who was fired for stealing $4.5 million from Ohtani’s bank account to pay off gambling debts.

U-M experts are available to discuss.

Dae Hee Kwak is an associate professor of sport management at the U-M School of Kinesiology and director of the Center for Sport Marketing Research. His research explores how fans react when their favorite athletes are involved in scandals. By examining how people think about right and wrong in these situations, his line of work sheds light on whether fans continue to support the athlete and how this affects the brands they endorse.

“This situation would allow Ohtani’s fans to separate their star from the perpetrator, and consider Ohtani as the victim, which echoes the sentiments from his representations and the team,” Kwak said. “‘Moral decoupling’ would likely occur among his close followers. While the investigation is in progress, there might not be a need for sponsors to react at the moment.”

Contact: kwakd@umich.edu

Jan Boehmer is an assistant professor of sport management at the School of Kinesiology and member of the Center for Sport Marketing Research. He investigates the social and economic impact of sport, focusing on data-driven approaches that illustrate how brands affect consumers’ perceptions and behaviors. He can address how crises affect the reputation of brands and athletes—and why sponsors may or may not decide to pull their commitments.

“Although the details surrounding the incident are still unclear, it is unlikely that Ohtani’s reputation will suffer in the long run,” Boehmer said. “Big brands—and Ohtani is arguably the biggest one in baseball right now—tend to be resilient when it comes to these types of infractions.

“The exact degree to which Ohtani is affected ultimately depends on his involvement in the scandal, and how he and his representatives deal with whatever is exposed. But even if his reputation gets tarnished in the process, it likely won’t last very long. His status as baseball’s best, highest-paid and most famous player with a golden boy image might put him under additional scrutiny and heightened expectations, but it will also help him recover. Especially if he starts winning games for the Dodgers.

“There have been countless examples of sports brands and athletes that suffered reputational damages following a crisis, but with few exceptions their losses were only temporary—especially looking at their financial performance. What this has done already, though, is create an even bigger buzz for both the MLB and the Dodgers right around Opening Day. No matter if fans love or hate Ohtani, they are now even more likely to tune in for his first games as a Dodger.”

Contact: jboehmer@umich.edu

Nikolas Webster is a clinical assistant professor of sport management at the School of Kinesiology and member at the Center for Sport Marketing Research. His areas of research include sport consumer behavior and issues surrounding the economics and management of sport. He also researches the cognitive, affective and behavioral consequences of sport fandom.

“Regarding Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Major League Baseball obviously have a lot at stake. But, I don’t think this circumstance should be too surprising for people given the rapid growth of sports betting in the United States,” Webster said. “Since we’ve had organized sport (thinking all the way back to the Olympics in Ancient Greece), there has been gambling. And yes, those involved then were cheating.

“Whether Ohtani is found guilty or not, I think we will have more of these situations come to light across all leagues. Leagues are trying to simultaneously embrace sports betting (forming partnerships with DraftKings, FanDuel and the like, creating additional revenue streams) while also trying to protect the integrity of their product (i.e., games).

“Now what is interesting, is the fan/consumer outcome of the Ohtani situation. You will have highly attached fans put all of the blame on Ohtani’s interpreter. Highly attached fans—we call them allegiant fans—display cognitive bias. Regardless of any evidence that is placed before them, these fans will deny any wrongdoing—or in some cases, justify wrongdoing—because they are highly attached to Ohtani or the Dodgers.

“Fans who have integrated sport objects—teams, leagues, athletes, etc.—into their identities—will do whatever they can to protect the psychological connection they have formed with the sport object.”

Contact: nikwebst@umich.edu

Michal (Mike) Lorenc is a clinical assistant professor of sport management at the School of Kinesiology and member of the Center for Sport Marketing Research. A 20-year veteran of Google and a co-owner of AFC Ann Arbor, a minor league soccer club, he can discuss the impact of technology on the sports industry and fandom, business of sports betting, and digital and social media marketing in sports.

“The Shohei Ohtani betting scandal, occurring in a state where online sports betting remains illegal, inadvertently presents a compelling argument for the legalization and regulation of sports betting,” Lorenc said. “By bringing such activities into the legal sphere, states can institute robust regulatory frameworks that enhance transparency, integrity and fairness in sports betting.

“Legalization offers the dual benefits of undercutting illegal betting markets that often lack oversight and consumer protections, while also generating significant tax revenues that can be reinvested in public services, including programs aimed at gambling addiction. Moreover, legal sports betting environments can foster partnerships between betting operators, leagues and regulatory bodies to implement advanced monitoring and data-sharing agreements. These measures not only protect the integrity of sports by detecting and deterring corruption but also enhance consumer trust in sports betting as a legitimate and safe activity.

“The Ohtani scandal, therefore, illuminates the potential benefits of legalizing sports betting as a means to protect and preserve the integrity of sports while offering economic benefits.”

Contact: mlorenc@umich.edu