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Could Montreal and Tampa Bay share the Rays?

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MLB: Spring Training-Milwaukee Brewers at Toronto Blue Jays Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN and the Tampa Bay Times both have a story up that has been like a rock to the wasp’s nest that is my Twitter feed.

Both are reporting that the Rays management has been given MLB permission to explore the idea of splitting their season between Tampa Bay and Montreal. The idea is to play early season games in Florida and the rest of the season in Montreal. Now there are many hurdles to leap before we would see regular season games in Montreal:

  • First, there is little chance that this could happen before 2023 at the earliest. And baseball doesn’t do anything ‘at the earliest’.
  • St. Petersburg has an agreement that requires all home games to be playing at Tropicana Field through the 2027 season. I would say that all contracts are made to be broken, but it would take a bit of work.
  • A baseball park would have to be built in Montreal. No they won’t play in the Big O. The idea of sharing the team would allow an open air park in Montreal. If they played the whole season in Montreal they would need a far more expensive domed stadium or a removable roof that would be even more costly. Stephen Bronfman has a site in mind in Montreal.
  • The Player’s Association would have to agree. That might be a tough one as players would have to have two homes during the season and that would come with a bunch of problems. I’m not sure players, who have families who already change homes at the start of the season, will not enjoy that.
  • Convincing levels of government to chip in for a stadium which will be used less than a full season might be tough.
  • A new stadium in Tampa Bay would still be needed and again getting all the approvals and, again, government support might be tough there too.

The Rays are averaging 14,546 fans a game this year (and that sounds inflated to me). The team really does need more revenue. From the ESPN story:

A deal with Montreal would keep the Rays in Florida while potentially adding significant revenues to the franchise. Montreal offers a robust corporate base for sponsorships and a fervent fan base that could support what would amount to a half-season ticket plan. Other teams could object to the Rays occupying two geographical territories, though the support of the executive council to explore the possibility, sources said, constituted a significant step forward.

I think it is a long shot to happen. But then I think that the Rays’ ownership might be using this as the thin edge of the wedge to start the idea of moving the team. I think that it would be an easy bait and switch: “Hey we were looking at sharing time between Montreal and Tampa Bay, but we’ve seen that it would be so much better and easier just to move to Montreal”.

I’m guessing the odds of this happening are low, but, as former Expos fan, I love the idea of baseball coming back to Montreal. It is a great city to visit. I’d really enjoy taking a baseball trip there once in a while.

Baseball owes Montreal big time. This would go a little ways towards paying that debt, but odds are Rays’ ownership is using this as blackmail to push for a new park in Tampa Bay.