In pitching their potential Tampa Bay-Montreal split season scenario, the Tampa Bay Rays have been steadily presenting their case through a series of community engagement efforts.
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, backed by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and other MLB owners, is floating an operating scenario where the Rays would play half of the season in Tampa Bay and the other half in Montreal, taking advantage of good weather in both locales and mitigating the need for covered ballparks. With their lease to Tropicana Field running through 2027 and St. Petersburg officials not budging from that commitment, the Rays are currently looking to implement the split-season scenario come 2028.
Getting to that point will take plenty of work, however, requiring the Rays to get elected officials in the two markets and other parties to buy into the concept, while selling the plan as the best approach to keeping MLB in the Tampa Bay region. As they work through the process, the Rays have been circulating the idea to local officials in the Tampa Bay region, along with the public at large. Most recently, Rays president Brian Auld laid out the case for the concept at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon on Thursday and reportedly drew a favorable response. This represents another example of the Rays taking a methodical approach in building their case, one that seems to be relying increasingly on community engagement on the part of top team officials. More from the Tampa Bay Times:
So it was notable that the notoriously cynical Tiger Bay crowd seemed receptive to Auld’s campaign pitch. And make no mistake, this is a campaign.
From a Fan Fest appearance to owner Stu Sternberg’s state-of-the-team address in Port Charlotte to various civic meetings, the Rays are methodically pushing the idea that the split season plan is likely an all-or-nothing proposition.
That’s not exactly a new stance. Sternberg pretty much presented it that way when the concept was first broached last summer. But it feels like the rhetoric gets turned up just a little bit each time you hear it. Almost as if the Rays are slowly cementing the idea that if the Montreal plan doesn’t work, there may not be Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay in 2028.
“When you look at the demographics of the region, the distances that separate our many wonderful cities, when you ask the hard questions, we have concluded that it is extremely unlikely that full season baseball can succeed in Tampa Bay,’’ Auld said. “We’re not missing by a few thousand people every night. We are at less than half of where we need to be, despite extraordinary on-field success.’’
The split-season concept is one that is far from final at this point. It will require a buy-in from the Stephen Bronfman-led group seeking to bring MLB to Montreal, along with ballpark funding plans that will work from all parties involved, and perhaps some persuasion of the Players Union. Getting the plan to the point where it could become a reality will be a complex process for the Rays, which is perhaps why the team is taking a steady approach to crafting its argument to the public and elected leaders.
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