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Manfred: Rays’ Split Season Pitch is Way to Keep Team in Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Rays

When discussing the issue Tuesday, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said that the concept of the Rays splitting their season between Tampa Bay and Montreal could ultimately stabilize the franchise’s future in Tampa Bay.

Last month, it was revealed that MLB is allowing the Rays to explore a concept that calls for the franchise to split its seasons between Tampa Bay and Montreal. Plenty of obstacles would have to be overcome to make the idea a reality, but the plan could include new open-air ballparks in both markets. The open-air designs would result in lower construction costs, while allowing the Rays to plan their schedule around optimal weather conditions–spring and early summer games could be played in the Tampa Bay region, with summer and early fall games in Montreal.

Whether the idea ever comes to fruition remains to be seen, but it has prompted some concerns about the future of the Rays in Tampa Bay. Low attendance has been persistent problem for the franchise at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, while no plan to build a new ballpark in the region has surfaced since discussions about a proposed facility in Tampa’s Ybor City collapsed late last year.

Before Tuesday’s All-Star Game, Manfred addressed some of the questions that have surfaced since the split season concept came to light. He noted that MLB is open to the idea, especially if a split season proves to be a solution in addressing some of the Rays’ issues. In addition, Manfred said there have been no discussions about the team leaving the Tampa Bay region permanently. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

“To address what has been an ongoing issue, I think the owners are prepared to live with the idea that they would operate in two markets,’’ Manfred said. “It’s kind of in the free lunch category. There is no such thing as a free lunch. We have an issue in Tampa, it needs to get resolved somehow. If it means we give up a potential expansion site to solidify where we are, so be it.’’

The Rays came to MLB with the plan last month, and got the go-ahead to explore the viability, though they need permission from St. Petersburg to delve into details and some of the logistics.

“The approval from the June owners meeting was reflective that Stu has worked really hard over a long period of time on the Tampa side and the St. Pete side to try to get something done from a stadium perspective,’’ Manfred said. “It was sold to the owners, to the executive council as a way to preserve baseball in Tampa (Bay). That’s how people saw it.’’

Manfred said there has been no discussion of moving the Rays out of the Tampa Bay market, which is the 11th largest TV market in the U.S. He noted baseball’s “long-standing policy of franchise stability.’’

In Montreal, the idea of a split season has been touted by The Montreal Group, led by Stephen Bronfman, as a way to bring MLB back to the city. Should the Rays forgo the split-season proposal and not seek to move to Montreal at all, the market could still be an intriguing candidate for an expansion franchise. However, MLB has not announced plans to grow to 32 teams, and Manfred has been clear that the facility challenges facing the Rays and Oakland A’s are among the issues that would have to be resolved before MLB moves forward with any expansion plans.

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