ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg announced his vision of the team splitting regular-season games between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal in 2024.
Standing alongside Rays co-president Brian Auld at the Dali Museum, Sternberg said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference he envisioned two new, open-air stadiums somewhere around Tampa Bay and in Montreal.
"No financing has been arranged, approached or broached in either place,” Sternberg said.
In the future, Sternberg said it is "highly unlikely" Tampa Bay – whether in St. Petersburg or Tampa – would host the Rays for an 81-game home schedule like the rest of the 29 teams in MLB.
Sternberg said the team would play the first half of a season somewhere in Tampa Bay, have a "summer sendoff" and then have a second Opening Day in Montreal midseason. Rays management said they did not know if a postseason game would be held in Tampa Bay or Montreal.
The Rays still have a lease agreement with the City of St. Petersburg that runs through the 2027 season. A spokesperson for the city said the city attorney's office had been in contact with the Rays' general counsel and was told all conversations about Montreal were limited to the time period after the expiration of the agreement to play at Tropicana Field in St. Pete.
Under the current deal, the Rays would have to reach a memorandum of understanding with the city of St. Petersburg before they could negotiate playing home games elsewhere.
"The City Attorney’s office has been in contact with the general counsel for the Tampa Bay Rays and received assurances that the Rays will not commence exploration of the shared city concept, or conduct any other activities related to a pre-2028 future stadium site, without an agreement with the City of St. Petersburg," the city told 10News.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman issued a statement after Tuesday afternoon’s news conference:
"If Mr. Sternberg wishes to formally explore this concept with me and his desire to privately and fully fund a new stadium in the City of St. Petersburg, I am willing to listen. The City of St. Petersburg will not participate in the funding of a new stadium for a part-time team. We remain receptive to partnering with the Tampa Bay Rays to redevelop the Tropicana Field site and build a new stadium for a full-time team. St. Pete’s future has never been brighter and every business and baseball team in America should want to be a part of it. Finally, I believe progress moves at the speed of trust. If Mr. Sternberg is serious about this idea or any other, it will require the reestablishment of a good working relationship with my office.”
Sternberg said he would "have conversations" with Kriseman moving forward.
"It's not about relocation," Sternberg said. "It's not about negotiating ploys."
In December 2018, the Rays' three-year negotiating window expired with Tampa for a new $892 million Ybor City stadium. Rays management said Tuesday an open-air stadium would save hundreds of millions of dollars.
“We greatly lag beyond the rest of the league,” Sternberg said. “We’re at or near the bottom in every economic category in Major League Baseball.”
The team would also need to get approval from the MLB Players’ Association to have a two-city team.
Rays team co-president Matthew Silverman said Tuesday the team's players are "open-minded" about playing home games in two cities. As of Tuesday, the $8.25 million owed to infielder Brandon Lowe in 2024 is the team's only salaried contract for that season, according to Baseball Reference. The team's roster could and will likely look much different come 2024, even with several Rays players eligible for arbitration.
Silverman said the Rays players were "reserving judgments" and would differ to the Players' Association for any conversations with MLB about how a two-city team would work. He also suggested that "more resources" would lead to a higher payroll.
Sternberg said by hosting home games in two cities, Tampa Bay could have "connectivity with another world-class community in Montreal."
“That community will come here in droves to watch our baseball team, to set up businesses, visit our beaches, shop in our shops, eat in our restaurants, share in our community, perhaps retire here,” Sternberg said.
Sternberg called it a "creative, sensible, extraordinary solution to keeping this team and keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for many, many generations."
“Even though it seems like a long-shot to everybody and a cockamamie idea and whatever it’s been called, we really do feel great about it and we think it can get done,” Sternberg said.
TIMELINE: Tampa Bay Rays' Stadium Saga
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