There have been quiet, behind-the-scenes whispers about baseball returning to Montreal for quite some time now, but yesterday, the door got kicked down. Major League Baseball has granted the struggling Tampa Bay Rays permission to explore the possibility of splitting their home games between The Trop and Montreal.
Rays receive permission to explore possibility of a split-season between Tampa Bay and Montreal, Canada. pic.twitter.com/tTH4YR8JrC
— MLB (@MLB) June 20, 2019
The Rays, as we know, play in a shit-hole of a stadium slammed in the middle of an inconvenient location. It’s less of a ballpark, you know, with the sights, and sounds, and lovely summer sky, and more of an abandoned Costco with a gross, muggy aesthetic that feels like it should be used exclusively for NRA conventions. Tropicana Field has played a key role in the team finishing either second last or dead last in attendance for the past decade.
Baseball in Tampa Bay is a massive issue right now. There’s no doubt that the Rays need an upgrade to their barn because The Trop is wildly inadequate, but the organization simply hasn’t been able to get the ball rolling on any kind of new stadium project.
Last summer, the organization announced plans for a new stadium project that would be ready for 2023, but the plan was taken back to the drawing board after the Rays failed to reached fundraising goals by the December deadline. The Rays have sought public funding, but, uh, good luck trying to syphon money from taxpayers given what the State of Florida just went through in Miami with their new mega-stadium.
From a Montreal perspective, a Stephan Bronfman-led group has been hell-bent on getting a Major League team back in Montreal for quite some time and it seems they’ll do pretty much anything they can to make it happen. Bronfman’s group eyes the Peel Basin area of Montreal as the ideal home for a new stadium, given Olympic Stadium is obviously obsolete. Montreal’s mayor reportedly supports the idea, but it would require support from the federal government.
So, uh, does any of this actually make any sense?
To me, this seems like a ploy by the Rays ownership group to threaten the local government with the potential of the team moving. It reeks of the classic sports owner “well, they’re gonna build us a new stadium so I guess we’re gonna have to pack up and leave for a little bit because you don’t appreciate us” tactic for spooking taxpayers into helping fund stadium upgrades.
There’s no doubt this would be a positive revenue-driver for the Rays. I mean, nobody watches that team right now, and they would immediately be unlocking a massive base of Canadian fans. They’d likely get a lucrative TV deal in Canada and, at least in the short-term, they’d have no problem filling the stadium for those 40-or-so games in Montreal.
But beyond that, none of this really makes sense.
Why would a free agent want to sign with a team playing in two cities? Would fans in Montreal actually give a shit about the Rays? Or would it just be a novelty? How would travel work? There currently aren’t direct flights from Tampa to Montreal. What would Rogers, the massive telecommunications juggernaut behind the Blue Jays that controls all of baseball in Canada, view this? Would they try to get in the way or another team taking a piece of their pie? Would the team, errr, switch jerseys when they played in Montreal vs when they played in Tampa?
As I said, Montreal offers the failing Rays an interesting opportunity. But with that in mind, if Montreal is truly the attractive revenue-driver in this situation, why not just pack the whole thing up and move north? Just cut Tampa entirely out of the equation. Probably because this whole thing is just a ploy to scare other vesting interests about the possibility of losing the Rays.
I still believe in Major League Baseball returning to Montreal, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on this rickety-ass situation that seems like a half-win for both sides.