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Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says split-city teams are ‘the wave of the future’

I don’t think I’d want to live in that future.

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Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

As you have probably heard — and if you haven’t it’s been covered in depth in today’s Outside The Confines — the Tampa Bay Rays’ plan to have two stadiums built for them, one in Tampa, one in Montreal, and operate as a two-city team, were nixed by MLB’s Executive Council.

I wrote that this was a bad idea back in October, and later that month wrote another article saying that this proposal was probably about leveraging a stadium to be built in the Tampa Bay area. What’s a bit surprising, then, is that the Executive Council of MLB owners basically agreed with this in telling the Rays they couldn’t do it.

Back to square one, then, the Rays will investigate stadium locations in the Tampa Bay area. But what I found most interesting in Sternberg’s comments in this article by Andy McCullough in The Athletic:

Sternberg described the plan as a “bold concept” which he believes will be raised by other clubs in the future.

“Partial seasons are going to be the wave of the future in professional sports,” he said.

I don’t understand where this comes from and why Sternberg thinks so. It seems counterintuitive to everything we now know about being a fan — the team reps the city you grew up in, or have adopted by moving there as an adult. How would playing only half your games in a city promote that team?

Let’s apply this to the Cubs. What if Tom Ricketts suddenly decided that the Cubs should play half their games in, oh, I don’t know, Albuquerque. (I chose that city because it’s about as far from Chicago as Montreal is from Tampa.) What would that do to the Cubs fanbase other than anger them? Granted, most fans follow their team on TV these days and a move like that wouldn’t change the way the majority of people watch Cubs baseball — although things like this would only really work if blackouts were completely eliminated. (Good luck with that.)

Beyond that there would be players who would have to uproot themselves and their families halfway through the season. Presumably there would be financial compensation for doing this, but why would any player want to disrupt his family this way? It’s one thing for a player to have a winter home and another home in a MLB city — now you’re asking the player to do that twice? I cannot see the MLB Players Association ever signing off on such an idea, and they’d have to in order to make it work.

The Green Bay Packers played almost half their schedule in Milwaukee from 1953-94. That’s not nearly the same thing because: a) one game a week, b) it’s still basically the same fanbase, since Green Bay is only a little more than 100 miles from Milwaukee and c) even now, a large number of Packers season ticket holders live in Milwaukee.

The NBA Kings franchise, now in Sacramento, split their time between Kansas City and Omaha for three seasons, from 1972-75. This isn’t remotely comparable because a) the NBA wasn’t nearly as popular then as now, only about 30 years old, b) it wasn’t really “split” as only about one-third of home games were played in Omaha and c) the primary reason for this odd split was that the Kings’ arena in Kansas City was a couple of years away from being completed at the time the franchise moved out of Cincinnati.

In baseball, I just don’t see how this works. Who’s going to pony up $1 billion for a baseball stadium that would be used only 40 times a year? What happens when the split team makes the postseason and half its fans don’t get any home playoff games?

I don’t see how this is the “wave of the future.” In fact, I think MLB executives did the right thing by putting the kibosh on this wacky idea. The Rays will either have to get a stadium built in the Tampa area, or move to Montreal.

They can’t have both.