Long frustrated by his inability to get a new baseball stadium built in the bay area, Tampa Rays owner Stuart Sternberg floated an idea that the team was exploring a two-city plan, where the Rays would call Tampa home for the first half of the season and play the second half in Montreal.
Montreal is supposedly a hot bed topic for baseball expansion, although it’s hard to see why since the city’s former major league team high-tailed it out of city in 2004 after years of low attendance to become the Washington Nationals in 2004.
In Sternberg’s plan, the Rays would play April, May and June in Tampa and the rest of the season in Montreal – preferably in new stadiums at both cities.
Sternberg noted this plan was not simply a good idea, it was a great idea and the only one option he has left.
There is a little precedent in a dual city franchise. Back in 2003, the Expos (suffering from low attendance, sound familiar?) received permission and played 22 home games in Puerto Rico.
The Rays announced this plan after Major League Baseball gave them permission to pursue this option.
“I’m confident it’s an amazing idea,” Sternberg said publicly. “Every turn, every what-if, what-if, only leads to more opportunity, more fandom, more joy.” He went on to down-play that this “plan” was simply a ploy to get a new stadium built in Tampa or help clear the public relations path for a permanent move out of Tampa.
There are incredible problems and obstacles standing in the way. Give the Rays credit for creative thinking, but the idea of a split season falls apart before you even start any deep thinking on how this two-city plan could work.
First, and perhaps most important, the Rays would have to break a lease that binds them to St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field through the 2027 season.
The city of St. Petersburg, which owns the facility, has no intention of letting the Rays remove 41 home games from their building.
“I want to be crystal clear. The Rays cannot explore playing major league baseball games in Montreal, or anywhere else for that matter, prior to 2028 without reaching a formal memorandum of understanding with the city of St. Petersburg,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said. He flat out stated he has no intention of even taking the Rays plan before city council, which effectively could nix the idea for eight more seasons.
On a practical matter, splitting the season between two countries would be tough on the front office employees, players and coaches.
The red tape for obtaining part-time resident status for players and employees would be mind boggling and asking the players and employees to find and maintain two different residences during a sixth month period would be cumbersome at best. Not to mention players and front office staff with young children at home.
Go to school in Tampa through the academic year, move to Montreal, start school in Canada for the next year and then transfer back to the Bay area in March would create incredible stains on the families.
While some may counter that the majority of Tampa’s roster is usually made up of young players who do not have school age children, those same players are playing on rookie contracts that would create a financial burden if you ask them to maintain two residences. In short, it is doubtful that the players’ association would approve of this plan without major financial considerations to the players.
And then there’s this scenario. Rays have a great season and make the playoffs. Who gets to host the post-season home games? That would make for an interesting discussion.
Of course at the heart of the matter is Sternberg’s desire to play in a new government-funded stadium (or stadiums). The reality is the Tampa/St. Pete governments have balked at building a half a billion dollar playhouse for a rich owner and talk of a new stadium in Montreal is just that – talk. For years, franchises have always threatened to move in order to extract new stadiums at public expense. As the Rays have found out, cities have started calling out that bluff and are becoming less likely to commit public tax dollars towards a private enterprise.
The fact that the Rays are trying to get two new stadiums built to share a team is laughable.
That said, what was this announcement really about? Although Sternberg scoffed at the notion that this is simply a public relations ploy to allow the Rays to eventually leave and be able to blame city (We gave them the only viable option to keep the team – even though it was only for half a season), it appears that this plan is exactly that – a ploy to blame others when the team does decide to move.
The plan of a two-city franchise in two different countries in unwieldy, unworkable and perhaps a little insane.
Ideally, during the next few years, Tampa and/or St. Petersburg will sit down with Sternberg and try to come to an agreement on a new stadium and how much each side would be willing to contribute to the project.
If no agreement is eminent, the Rays will most likely continue to search for a city willing to build them a new home and the team will relocate permanently.