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Could MLB really return to Montreal sooner than later?

Labatt Field

Many baseball insiders assume MLB will return to Montreal, but some — like agent Scott Boras — are pushing for an earlier return if the Tampa Bay Rays cannot solve their ballpark issues.

Boras was pretty clear about Montreal serving as a better home to the Rays, as reported by Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune:

“The hope in baseball is you’d have a consistent product annually, you have a group of people in ownership that are putting winning baseball on the field, and you’d certainly have to say Tampa Bay has done that,” Boras said.

“My point was that baseball, collectively, to protect the game, to protect the market, and you have a product that is so successful and the market is not responding to it, what is the reason? The reason is not the performance of the franchise or the players. The reason has to be there’s a dynamic operating here that is not consistent with what other markets do in baseball.

“Clearly if you win and you’re successful, your fan base rewards. So my suggestion of New Jersey or Montreal or somewhere … The idea is for the betterment of the game. I think we have to look at markets that aren’t rewarding playing the game at a high level.”

Now, Boras isn’t the first person to suggest the Rays should look north of the border for a new home, but he’s the one with the most knowledge of baseball’s finances to say MLB would be viable in Montreal. The Rays would see an attendance jump playing at initially and temporarily at Olympic Stadium versus the Trop, to be sure, and given the state of politics in Tampa Bay, one could argue there’s an equal chance of a new ballpark in both areas. And, one could argue that the economic future for an MLB is considerably brighter in Montreal than Tampa when it comes to TV contracts (Bell would be a natural partner) and media exposure. The trick would be turning that five-year honeymoon into momentum for a new ballpark.

Previous studies have argued Montreal’s viability as an MLB market, and the comments from Boras were prompted by a study from Ernst & Young indicating how MLB could work in Montreal, using the Minnesota Twins and the financing of Target Field as an example. Here’s the summary, though we suggest you read the whole report as released by the Montreal Baseball Project:

► Based on the information collected and a conservative analysis, the return of Major League Baseball to Montreal would be financially viable under a set of realistic assumptions, including a modest but competitive payroll, average ticket prices in line with league averages, a local broadcasting rights deal in line with other similar MLB markets, other innovative sponsorships and partnerships, and the revenue distributed to all teams through the multiple facets of the MLB revenue sharing model.

► Based on Leger Marketing’s work, the return of professional baseball to Montreal would be embraced by both fans and the business community, with average attendance reasonably expected to reach approximately 28,500 fans per game.

► With a population of over 3.8 million people, Montreal is the 15th largest market in North America, and the largest without a team in the MLB (which has 30 teams).

► A new dedicated baseball facility would seat 36,000, with up to 60 luxury boxes, and would ideally be located within approximately 2km of downtown Montreal.

► It would be designed with public transit connectivity and developed so as to stimulate property and economic development in the area, as such ballparks have succeeded in doing in several other cities.

► The stadium is estimated to cost $467M, including estimates for project management and construction financing.

► Of the total deal cost of $1.025 B, 67% ($690M) would be financed by the team ownership group, while 33% ($335M) would come from government. Government would retain ownership of the stadium, but the team would be responsible for all aspects of construction and operation, including cost overruns, and would retain revenue streams from all commercial activities and as well as all inherent financial risk.

► The government’s share of costs would be recouped through direct tax payments generated in the construction phase ($55.6M) and during each year of operation ($23M annually), as well as by dedicating sales taxes generated annually by stadium activities ($18M) and income tax on part of players’ salaries ($10M). Municipal infrastructure investment would be recouped through property taxes.

► A single-purpose open-air ballpark would therefore be financially viable with an MLB team, and could be constructed within 3 years after finalizing the transaction to acquire the team.

(No, not the ballpark shown at the top of this article. That 2000 rendering is for Labatt Park, proposed by then-Expos owner Jeffrey Loria. It’s a little amusing that what’s being proposed today is eerily similar to what Loria and crew developed.)

The reality of Montreal emerging sooner than anticipated as an MLB home is hitting home in Tampa, per this Tampa Tribune story:

Cromartie doesn’t have the money to buy a team or pay for a new ballpark, so he knows he faces long odds. For now, he’s hoping to find a would-be owner to buy and relocate a team, while he “makes noise” to keep Montreal in the discussion. He has support from Montreal’s chamber of commerce, the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal.

“I’m on this journey, and right now it’s going well,” Cromartie said Tuesday. “I know it’s a long shot. I like the long shot that we’re in.”…

A Rays spokesman declined comment Tuesday about Montreal’s efforts. Over the summer, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg told that he wants to keep looking around the Bay area for a ballpark and has no plans to look at Montreal. However, he did tell the website he believes baseball can work in Montreal. For Cromartie, bringing baseball back to Montreal has become his full-time pursuit.

Cromartie makes one argument that basically sums up the Montreal situation in a nutshell: For MLB’s return to Montreal to work, it will require a strong owner with deep pockets and a commitment to his team. That, to us, sums up Rays managing general partner Stuart Sternberg perfectly.

RELATED STORIES: Support for return of MLB Montreal strong: poll; MLB temporarily returns to Montreal; Cromartie: We’re launching feasibility study on return of MLB to Montreal; Cromartie laying groundwork for return of MLB to Montreal; Conference board: Montreal can support MLBMore MLB dreams in MontrealMontreal capable of supporting MLB — if there’s an owner with deep pockets


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