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READY FOR THE EX-RAYS?

READY FOR THE EX-RAYS?

The context has drastically changed since the Expos left Montreal in 2004. If Nos Amours ever came back in town, would the franchise be viable for the province's largest city?

Since 2012, Montreal Baseball Project (MBP) has helped revive the flame of a possible return of
Major League Baseball in Montreal. The project founded by former Expo great Warren
Cromartie has lobbied the MLB by staging events like the annual March spring training Jays’
games and presenting a feasibility study to the Office of the Commissioner in 2013.


Although it has met its share of sceptics from the outset, MBP’s cause has undoubtedly
attracted the attention of the baseball world these past few years. A testament to those efforts
is the consistent growth of participation in the sport among Baseball Quebec’s youth programs
over the last 10 years.


Nobody can blame Montreal baseball fans and media members for doubting the viability of the
project. After all, the death of the Expos 15 years ago was both ugly and painful.


When dismissing the project, sceptics constantly bring up the same roadblocks that are widely
recognized as culprits for the Expos’ move to Washington in 2004. But when we examine those
in context, we quickly realize that was then, and this is now:


- Jeffrey Loria and David Samson: I never believed the infamous duo was responsible for
the move. Truth is they made a cash-call to try to keep the team in Montreal and none
of the local minority owners were interested. This time around, Stephen Bronfman
would be the majority owner of the franchise. He is a wealthy, passionate baseball man
who is obviously devoted to bringing an MLB team back to Montreal for good;


- Olympic Stadium: the proposed plan includes a brand new, open-air stadium in the
downtown area;


- Too small a market: at nearly 4 million, Montreal’s metropolitan area population is
currently the highest in North America not to have an MLB team;


- General lack of interest: no fan base will support a losing franchise year after year. The
consistent refusal of Expos’ ownership to invest in the team’s on-field success is to
blame for dwindling attendance.


Pro sports form an industry of highs and lows. Dedicated ownership is key. Stephen Bronfman
and his team are smart businessmen who see an opportunity to take advantage of a favorable
context.


Quebec’s economy is as sound as it has been in years. Corporate support would be much
stronger in a downtown stadium (the feasibility study revealed as much).


Furthermore, baseball has evolved. The Moneyball revolution has taught front offices cost-
effective ways to build winning teams. Young, inexpensive stars are ready to be impact
producers earlier in their careers than ever before. Scouting and development have replaced
money as keys to success. The Oakland A’s, Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves are all proof
that it is possible to compete on a budget in today’s MLB.

And so are the Tampa Bay Rays!


THE EX-RAYS?


The latest development in this saga came last June 25th , when Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg
made the stunning announcement that he would envision the possibility of splitting his team’s
season between Tampa and Montreal starting in 2024. He even obtained Commissioner Rob
Manfred’s blessing to go ahead with the project.


Once again, this plan was met with a lot of scepticism. Aside from the Expos playing a handful
of home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico during their last few seasons of existence, this kind of
dual city franchise would be a first in North American pro sports. Le Journal de Montréal
columnist Marc De Foy went as far as calling the idea senseless (“…dossier sans queue ni
tête…”).


The idea does have its share of logistical issues, of course. Getting the players to agree to such
an arrangement being chief among them. But if that’s the short-term solution to bringing
Major League Baseball back to the city, why would anyone take the glass-half-empty approach?


Stephen Bronfman’s ultimate objective may be to own a full-time Montreal franchise, but he is
willing to explore the twin cities concept. He swears by Sternberg’s integrity and believes the
Florida-based businessman will do everything in his power to keep the franchise in Tampa Bay.


This is a case of good business minds thinking out of the box and finding a solution that can
work. Let’s remember that Rob Manfred is not currently considering expansion.


41 games during the high touristic season in Florida and 40 more in beautiful Montreal in the
summertime… In an outdoor stadium! I can already see all those banners on the outfield wall:
Rawlings, Easton, Wilson, Under Armour, etc.


Even if it is a permanent fix as Sternberg has suggested, as a Montreal baseball fan, wouldn’t
you be ecstatic with that?

Comments

  1. Carl Carl

    You are right Pete about the players. Their willingness to go along with this is one of the main obstacles the project has to overcome. But in a recent radio interview, M. Bronfman was adamant that convincing the players wouldn't be a problem (financial incentives would be part of the plan). I tend to differ to such an astute businessman in this case. We shall see...

  2. Pete Pete

    Sorry Carl, but that's a selfish fantasy. The baseball season is grueling enough, asking players to split two home cities and: relocate their families, find two sets of doctors for their kids, rent / buy two homes is selfish and players will hate that situation. It is what it is, as much as I love baseball, this city just doesn't deserve a team.

  3. Carl Lemelin Carl Lemelin

    I agree with you Pete that 81 game may have been asking too much of this market to support. But we are talking about a split that might see Montreal host 45 or 46 games. I truly believe the Big O was the main reason people weren't showing up when the team wasn't winning. Montrealers love the outdoors during our summer that are way too short. I know people will show up win or lose in a beautiful, open air, downtown stadium during the warmest months of the year!

  4. Pete Pete

    Sorry but this province is a graveyard for professional sports. The general cluelessness and racism here simply won't allow a team to survive for 81 home games. Remember when the only thing attracting over 10,000 fans at the Olympic Stadium were pitching juggernauts like Rheal Cormier and Denis Boucher???

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