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Manfred: Montreal needs ballpark plan to lure MLB

Montreal ExposBe prepared for a slew of Montreal baseball stories as the Big O hosts exhibition games this weekend. Today: Commissioner Rob Manfred says a ballpark plan is needed before MLB can consider a return to Montreal in the future.

It’s been trendy the past few years to position Montreal as a future MLB market, either through relocation or expansion. Studies have indicated the city’s economic potential as an MLB market, and fans remember the glory days of the Montreal Expos, when a powerhouse lineup drew millions of fans to the Big O. And, shortly after taking office in January, Manfred did refer to Montreal as a viable MLB market — under the right circumstances.

With the Toronto Blue Jays hosting the Cincinnati Reds this coming weekend at Olympic Stadium, Manfred is again stating what is to many is obvious: that under the right circumstances, Montreal is an MLB market. But those circumstances need to include a new ballpark: under no circumstances is anyone considering Olympic Stadium a permanent MLB home. From the Canadian Press:

“The key thing in Montreal would be to have a plan for an adequate facility that could support baseball over the long haul,”…

(Montreal needs) a plan for a major league facility. A firm, committed-to plan,” he said. “I don’t expect people to go into the ground and build a facility without some sort of commitment that they are going to get a team. But I do think that you need a plan, and a commitment to how that plan is going to be executed.”

With 80,000 tickets sold for the Blue Jays/Reds matchup, there’s certainly interest in the market for baseball. When the Expos were winning and the Big O was considered to be a decent facility, the team was a great draw. Now, with market research commissioned by former Expo Warren Cromartie indicating the Montreal market could support MLB, the groundwork is there for a new Montreal team. Whether it comes through a move or expansion is a big issue. On the one hand, there has been rumblings about expansion among some baseball types we know: moving to 32 teams adds a new level of balance to scheduling, and with 24-hour sports networks proliferating, there’s broadcast money out there. (And there’s a market that could make expansion possible: San Antonio.) On the other hand, having Montreal as a viable MLB market certainly helps Lew Wolff and Stuart Sternberg in their ballpark talks. Just don’t be expecting to put down those deposits for season tickets any time soon.

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