The Tampa Bay Rays have long been dissatisfied with Tropicana Field, their home ballpark. Built in the late 1980s to try to lure a MLB team (and the White Sox nearly moved there), it’s outdated and in probably the worst possible location in the Tampa Bay area for a ballpark — in a corner of St. Petersburg, across Tampa Bay from the bulk of the fanbase.
Drawing fans there has always been difficult for the Rays, even when they are winning. Plans to build a new ballpark in the Ybor City area of Tampa fell through in late 2018.
The Rays’ lease at the Trop runs through 2027, but they have begun to make noise about leaving, perhaps even earlier than that.
The latest proposal is to split time between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal.
The Rays are so committed to this idea that they had planned to put a “TAMPA BAY/MONTREAL” sign up at the Trop during this year’s postseason:
Team president Matt Silverman revealed the plans in an interview on the This Week in Rays Baseball radio show that aired Saturday afternoon. He said later that they want to wait to unveil the sign at the first playoff game.
“We’re going to add a sign in the rightfield foul territory with a very simple Tampa Bay Montreal graphic,” Silverman said. “Especially with the eyes of baseball on us this October, we want that visible symbol of our plan and our excitement for it. It will mark the effort subtly and keep the focus on winning.”
Three days later, the team abruptly cancelled the sign plan:
Principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the change on Tuesday’s Rays radio pre-game show, apologizing to the fans for making “a big mistake” with the idea to put a sign on the back wall to serve a “visible symbol” of the sharing plan.
“I’m really here to speak directly to our fans today,” Sternberg said. “And to apologize, quite frankly. I’ve always said that baseball is meant to be fun and engaging and exciting. Brings a community together.
“I made a big mistake, a real mistake, in trying to promote our sister-city plan with a sign right now in our home ballpark. I absolutely should have known better. And really, I’m sorry for that. I’m here to tell ... the fans that the sign is not going to go up.”
So, back where they started, with this “sister city” plan, which essentially would have the team play in the Tampa Bay area from April through June, then in Montreal from July through September. Postseason games would be split in some still-unspecified manner.
Did I mention they’d need to build TWO stadiums for this? One in each city?
Maury Brown explains the primary reason this will never work:
Let me rephrase so this is clear: I don’t see how the PA would allow for this. I could see this floated as part of collective bargaining but am unsure if that’s necessary. What is necessary is approval from the PA. https://t.co/zVLvZK2OF7— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) October 10, 2021
He’s right, in my view. It’s tough enough for players — no matter how much money they make — to establish an in-season home for themselves and their families if they don’t live in the city where they play, and most don’t. Under this plan, now you are asking players to do this in not only two cities, but two different countries, with different laws, taxes and languages to deal with — and in the case of players not citizens of the United States or Canada (a not insignificant number these days), to now have to establish homes in three different countries.
I haven’t even gotten to the fanbase. Why would anyone in the Tampa Bay area buy season tickets (for example) to see a team that’s gone after June? Why would anyone in the Montreal area buy season tickets for a team they can’t see until July? Why would regional sports networks (or their equivalent in Canada) pay big money for TV rights for games that fans in those areas might not care about if they’re not being played by the “local” team?
People have brought up the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, who split time between those two cities in the NBA for three years, 1972-75. That situation isn’t remotely comparable; the NBA wasn’t the big thing it is now back in the early 1970s (some NBA Finals games were televised on tape delay in the that era!), and eventually the team realized that plan was unworkable and settled full-time in Kansas City (and moved to Sacramento in 1985). Also, Kansas City and Omaha are 180 miles apart and, well, in the same country. Tampa and Montreal are separated by about 1,500 miles and an international border.
The bottom line is that I cannot see the MLB Players Association ever signing off on such an arrangement. As Maury Brown noted, sure, this could be part of collective bargaining but I cannot see anything owners could offer players that would get them to agree to this.
Most likely, this plan is posturing to push the folks in the Tampa Bay area to build a new stadium for the Rays and get them to stay there full-time. If it doesn’t work, then they can say, “Well, we tried,” and move the team full-time to Montreal. That, actually, is a pretty good idea — built-in divisional rivalry with the Blue Jays, a fanbase that will support a winning team.
But this split-city plan ought to be DOA.
If you’d like to read more about the Rays stadium saga, our SB Nation friends at DRaysBay have an entire section’s worth of stories on this topic at their site, similar to one we have here at BCB about Wrigley renovations.
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