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The Tampa Bay Rays ‘sister city’ plan is really about leverage

This should not surprise you. And, there’s a bit of news about the Oakland A’s stadium situation.

Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this article about the Tampa Bay Rays’ “plan” to split time between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, an idea I thought was dumb then and will continue to think that until they drop it.

Some people think Rays owner Stu Sternberg is simply trying to leverage one market against the other until someone builds them a new stadium, and Maury Brown, in this article for Forbes, agrees:

While Sternberg may publicly say that he’s “committed to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come,” the actions by the club paint a picture of working markets against each other to satisfy not only the Rays but potentially MLB. The Rays are going to throw Montreal into the mix to leverage St. Pete or the larger Tampa Bay area in the hopes of extracting a new ballpark. If they are unable to do so, and Montreal does, the team eventually relocates after exiting their current lease agreement that expires in 2027. Should both markets come up with ballparks, then the club remains the Tampa Bay Rays, and Montreal gets awarded an expansion team.

Well, yeah. That seems to be pretty much what’s destined to happen here. The cities are definitely being leveraged against each other, especially since there are folks in Montreal who would love to have a MLB team, nearly 20 years after the Expos split for Washington. When the Rays’ stadium issue first came up their 2027 lease expiration seemed far into the future, but 2027 is only six years away now. Given how long this topic has been up for discussion, it’s entirely possible the 2027 season concludes with no place for the Rays to play — they’re certainly not going to sign a new lease for the Trop.

And if the Rays think the folks in Montreal are just going to pony up for a new stadium, think again. From the Tampa Bay Times:

Right next to the Interstate 275 exit for The Pier, between flashes of ads for light beer, is a message on a billboard from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Every minute or so, “Dear Rays, Montreal won’t pay for your new stadium. Sincerely, Taxpayers” lights up just west of Tropicana Field.

They’re especially not going to pay for a stadium that would host only 40 games, in the harebrained “sister city” idea, which, per Maury Brown, would have to be approved not only by fellow owners, but by the MLB Players Association:

The bottom line is, the Rays can wish to engage in a split-season with Montreal all they want. They can put up signs and talk about it with fans and local political representatives as a way to get a new ballpark in Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg. But, without approval from the MLB Players Association, the idea is nothing more than a concept. We’ll know whether it moves from proposal to reality if the MLBPA approves it… and not before.

I joke around about this, but this is actually serious for the business of baseball. Neither anyone in Florida nor anyone in Quebec wants to spend public money on a stadium for the Rays, whether it’s for 40 games or 81, especially in Quebec. A poll last March commissioned by the French-language Le Journal de Quebec had 60 percent of those surveyed against any public money going toward a baseball stadium in Montreal.

So what happens if 2027 comes and there’s no new stadium at all for the Rays? They can’t stay in St. Petersburg after that; they won’t sign a new lease and the Trop site is supposedly being targeted for redevelopment. I suppose they could move to Montreal and temporarily play at Olympic Stadium, which wasn’t suitable for baseball when the Expos played there 20+ years ago and certainly isn’t now, but eventually a new ballpark would have to be bulit.

What a mess. And I haven’t even mentioned the Oakland Athletics stadium situation until just now, although there was a vote just yesterday in Alameda County that might boost the A’s chances of staying in Oakland:

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 for a non-binding resolution to commit tax dollars to the $12 billion Howard Terminal project, a proposed new baseball stadium and surrounding development area.

Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf cheered the vote, saying it “paves a clear path to keep the A’s rooted in Oakland and build a world-class waterfront ballpark district that will benefit Bay Area residents for generations to come.”

So, maybe the A’s will get their new ballpark in Oakland after all. But the Rays situation does not seem to have any obvious solutions.