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Here’s why the Rays won’t become a two-city team | Opinion

MLB gave the Rays permission to explore the possibility of splitting home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal. It won't happen.
Credit: Mark Bergin, WTSP
Tropicana Field on Opening Day on Thursday, March 28, 2019.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Some news stories make great headlines but don’t have much substance upon further research.

The Tampa Bay Rays exploring the possibility of splitting their 81-game home schedule between two cities fits the criteria. Anything you read about the Rays considering both Tampa Bay and Montreal simultaneously is all sizzle and no steak.

Sure, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the leagues’ executive council had given permission for the Rays to explore a split season. It doesn’t factor in approval from the city of St. Petersburg, the players union and others.

Here's a brief recap of the last few months of the Rays stadium saga:

Tampa competing with St. Petersburg for a new stadium 

Well before Thursday’s announcement, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman had already shut the possibility down. In December 2018, Rays could not finalize plans on an $892 million stadium in Ybor City before their three-year negotiating window expired with Tampa.

The squabbling between Kriseman and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan is well-documented. Hagan has been an advocate of relocating the team to Tampa.

The Rays are also committed to their lease at Tropicana Field through the 2027 season. The team would be liable if they left before the lease expires.

Even a “longer-term project” isn’t realistic, as Manfred suggested. The bigger concern should be for the Rays leaving Tampa Bay permanently.

Here’s why a split season isn’t a realistic possibility:

Poor return on investment 

As pointed out by former 10News reporter Noah Pransky: If there’s anything that provides less of a return on investment than a nearly billion-dollar stadium used between 80-100 days a year, it’s one that’s used between 40-50 days per year.

The Rays already struggle to fill seats at Tropicana Field. How would they develop a fanbase that attends home games with the team splitting time between two cities?

So, two new stadiums? 

ESPN reporter Jeff Passan reports both Tampa Bay and Montreal would receive new stadiums under the new plan. How would the Rays pay for two new stadiums when they can’t finance one?

Splitting time between cities would be unprecedented 

While the Green Bay Packers have played defacto “home games’ in Milwaukee in the past, it’s unprecedented for a team to have a 50-50 split of its home games in North American professional sports. It's never really happened. It includes:

  • the NBA founded in 1946,
  • the NFL founded in 1920,
  • the NHL founded in 1917
  • and MLB founded in 1903.

Before the Montreal Expos moved from Montreal to Washington, D.C. in 2005, the team played 22 home games in Puerto Rico in 2003 and 2004. The Expos did not split their home games between two cities.

Speaking of the Expos…

The Montreal Expos had low attendance too, like the Rays… 

Low attendance was also an issue for the Expos when they played at Olympic Stadium.

BaseballReference.com shows the Expos had 9,254 people at home games in 2004, which was the final season the franchise played in Montreal. The Rays averaged 14,259 fans at their home games in 2018.

Other logistics, hurdles and scheduling issues 

There are several questions here:

  • How would a split schedule work? Would they alternate homestands between Tampa Bay and Montreal?
  • Where would the Rays play a postseason game?
  • What would you call the team? The Tampa Bay Rays of Montreal sounds as ridiculous as it is to type.
  • Would the players oppose playing in two cities? The players’ union would have to agree that the team could play its home games in two different cities. This would also impact the franchise’s ability to lure free agents.
  • How does this impact existing broadcasting rights, sponsorships and other deals the team has with area businesses?
  • How do the Rays get team personnel the proper documentation to work in Canada?

TIMELINE: Tampa Bay Rays' Stadium Saga

Mark Bergin is a journalist with 10News WTSP. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter and Instagram. You can also email him at mbergin@wtsp.com. 

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