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MLB: Rays Can Discuss Tampa/Montreal Split Season

Montreal ExposThe Tampa Bay Rays can negotiate a split season that begins in the Tampa Bay area and ends in Montreal, with new ballparks in both cities, according to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

As first reported by ESPN, the long-term plan would certainly be unique, calling for not one but two new MLB ballparks. It’s seen as a lower-cost way to approach the facilities issue. By playing at outdoor ballparks in both market, the Tampa/Montreal team would take advantage of good spring and early summer weather in Tampa and great summer/fall weather in Montreal, negating the need for more-expensive domed or retractable-roof facilities in both markets. On one level, it certainly is an elegant solution for facilities issues in both cities, as the Rays failed in their last effort to land an Ybor City ballpark. Cutting the cost of a new Ybor City or Channelside facility would certainly make any new Rays Florida ballpark a more palatable proposition for city and county officials.

The Rays ownership received permission to explore such a plan during MLB executive council meetings this week. Certainly nothing is imminent as of now, and there will surely be lots of speculation with plenty of details to be worked out, big and small.

On the surface, it’s certainly a unique approach to the whole notion of a “home” team, though not without precedent; the Montreal Expos hosted games at Puerto Rico’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium in 2003 and 2004, while the NBA’s Kansas City-Omaha Kings split home games in both cities when the team moved from Cincinnati beginning with the 1972-73 season. Neither move was a tremendous success, however. And there are plenty of logistical issues when it comes to branding, cable rights and sponsorships, as well as the makeup of a potentially overhauled ownership group. Marketing a Montreal team in bilingual Quebec is a much more different proposition than marketing a Tampa Bay team.

A potential Montreal MLB ownership group has been active in recent months, acquiring land for a large-scale mixed-use development near downtown that could potentially be anchored by a new ballpark. While the Montreal Expos certainly achieved some highs and lows during the team’s days at Jarry Park Stadium and Olympic Stadium, the market is fondly remembered in baseball circles, and the growth of the market has certainly not gone unnoticed by MLB officials. The move to bring MLB baseball back to Montreal has been led by The Montreal Group and headed by investor and developer Stephen Bronfman, who expressed support for the plan in a statement issued this afternoon:

 “We have been hard at work for several years examining how we can bring baseball back to Montreal in a sustainable manner. This concept is definitely one that is of interest to my partners and me and we are looking forward to studying this further.” 

The Montreal Group will have no further comment until after the Tampa Bay Rays media session that is being planned for next week. 

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