Montreal baseballHoward Bryant of ESPN.com wrote about the future of Major League Baseball in Montreal and of course the Tampa Bay Rays were brought up. But unlike most in the national media, Bryant is one writer who has always had a clear sense of what is going on in the Bay Area with the Rays.

That is to say, Bryant is realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of the Tampa Bay market, but also knows the Rays have a bad situation that needs to be fixes one way or another.

Here is what Bryant wrote about the connection between Montreal and the Rays and why the roar isn’t going away:

“It’s not hard to figure out what’s driving the Montreal conversation: Baseball has problems. The problem is with Oakland, a team not for sale and unwilling to relocate outside of the Bay Area but desperately in need of a new stadium. The problem is with Tampa Bay, a team also not for sale, but unlike Oakland, it’s frustrated enough to move. Rays owner Stu Sternberg is in an impossible place. The ballpark is no good. The region, a mass of bridges, is rush-hour-challenged. Transplants root for other teams. The fans supported the team with solid TV ratings as it improved and won the AL pennant in 2008, but the Rays have finished last in attendance per game for three years straight. Despite the agreement that the Rays must stay in St. Petersburg until 2028, baseball historically has proved there is a way out of anything.”

This is the reality Rays fans have to deal with: Until Montreal gets a new team or the Rays get a new stadium in the Bay Area, the national media is going to wonder aloud if the Rays will eventually move north of the border.

The formula is simple. No matter what you think about The Trop, and it has its pluses, it is not a revenue generator on par with other stadiums and the Rays desperately need a new stadium, sooner, rather than later. At the same time, there is one city in North America clamoring for an MLB team that at the very least has some of the criteria you would look for in a big league market.

Montreal

Unlike most in the national media, Bryant gets it. Back in 2011, he nailed what most in this area already knew, that the Rays were forced into a bad situation at The Trop because of MLB’s own greed and now it is MLB who wants to blame the fans and the city of St. Pete.

Prior to that, in 2010, it was Bryant who reported that then-commissioner Bud Selig had ordered the Rays “not to make significant financial investments in the area until attendance indicators improve, suggesting the team could be investing in potential relocation sites.” This is also stroked the fires of those who thought the Rays were intentionally sabotaging attendance.

That last piece was particularly relevant because many in Montreal and in baseball feel the same thing happened to the Expos in their final seasons in Montreal. Bryant brings this up in his latest column, noting:

“The city’s fans remember the sabotage beginning in 2002, believing the fix was in from the inside (directions to the stadium in French and English mysteriously went missing) and outside (the commissioner’s office taking ownership of the team; the trial run of regular-season games in Puerto Rico; Selig’s calling Washington a prime candidate for relocation).”

I always laugh when people bring up the first part (did all the diehard fans forget how to get to the ballpark?). But the second is important.

The Montreal mayor recently called for regular season games to be played in his city. This naturally led to speculation that the Rays would play a “home” series or two in Quebec.

The city of St. Pete would almost certainly balk at this. However, it becomes much more difficult for the city to put up a fight if the Rays were to file for bankruptcy and MLB decided to take control of the team. Montreal fans certainly are familiar with what happened to the Expos and their “home games” in Puerto Rico after MLB took control of their club.

It has been well-documented on this site and elsewhere that there are good reasons to believe MLB will never give up on the Tampa Bay market. But that doesn’t mean MLB won’t give up on the Rays in the Tampa Bay market. In 25 years, Tampa will have a baseball team, but that may be after the Rays move to Montreal and the next team moves to Tampa and into a better stadium situation.

In the end, it is just another reminder that the threat to move may be unlikely, but it is real and it is at least possible … until it isn’t.

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11 Comments

  1. Gus says:

    The Expos were out of their lease (which expired at the end of the 2001 season) when they started playing games in San Juan.

    A major league baseball team's bankruptcy would be extremely remote.

    But I am more worried just because it seems to me that in the day-to-day attempts to draw fans, the Rays seem to have given up. This is a good team, worthy of promotion by ownership.

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    • Kevin says:

      I was shocked to learn yesterday that it seems even the Big market Yankees have more discount (or free) days for Seniors/students/Military members on weeknights than the Rays...

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    • Joe Dunn says:

      There are far too many fans that go to the Trop to see "THEIR TEAM" which is the opponent. They move here when they were 10 and now they are 50 and they still wear their Sox, Yankee or Indian gear?? Give it up!!
      I think the Rays have maxed out on getting season ticket holders in the St Pete location . . . .many of us go on occasion and maybe for playoffs.....partly because the couch and big screen experience is not that bad.

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  2. Joe Dunn says:

    A) if you cant find your team's stadium somewhere on the internet and it is your first time attending a game, it is likely that is also YOUR FIRST DAMN TIME ON THE WEB!!
    B) Why did MLB sign off on such a long term agreement? Did they think that in 2025 and beyond this would still be a "state of the art" facility?? Laughable. How many of you reading this would sign a 15 year lease on a Ford Taurus??
    C) Since when was Montreal the hotbed of baseball?? The same year the Rays started playing, the Expos drew an average of 11,200 per game (according to baseball-almanac.com) Stunning!!

    Sports writers are encouraged to write the sensational, never the every day normal. I will NOT believe they could move there until I see the Rays players singing Oh Canada in French!!

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    • Mr. Smith 1980 says:

      That's the forest no one sees through the trees... Montreal's attendance was on par with or worse than the Rays' attendance is, so the whole idea of it being a better market is ridiculous, especially considering the strong TV ratings here in Tampa.
      Of course excitement about getting a new team in Montreal would send attendance through the roof, but 3-5 years of mediocre baseball and they'd be back in the basement.
      That same "shiny new toy" scenario will happen if Tampa gets a new stadium too, so it's really an exercise in futility either way.

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      • Joe Dunn says:

        I agree with you......and as much as I want to see Rays attendance increase I think a better location might be more effective that a new stadium. The newness of any facility wears off.....and the fan experience at the Trop is not that bad, especially when they WIN.
        New place to play will result in HIGHER prices I bet and nobody wants that.

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  3. Rick says:

    I'm attending as many games now as I can take in - because the writing is on the wall that they'll be gone in the future. I won't regret it - I'll just watch MLB games on the HDTV, save a ton of money, and pick a new favorite team, likely my childhood fav team the Royals

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  4. JMN says:

    ESPN reporters stirring the pot again. Quit watching that channel and going to their website 7 years ago and don't miss it a bit. ESPN=TMZ.

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  5. Jim says:

    TMZ > ESPN. TMZ actually has national breaking stories. There’s no way ESPN didn’t have access to the Donald Sterling or Ray Rice tapes. ABC/Disney/Espn is nothing more than a mouthpiece for their contracted programming.

    And yes you guys are right, once the paint dries on a new Tampa Stadium, and the Royals show up on a Tuesday, there will be 12K in the stands. It is a shiny new toy, that won’t produce actual attendance. We will be back in the bottom 5 in attendance in less than five year no matter if it is in Tampa or Montreal. It’s too trendy in this area to support “hometown pride”, and that’s NEVER going to change.

    The location of the stadium is a huge load of BS. If the Trop were located in in Channelside in Tampa, do you honestly think we would draw over 20K a night? No way. If St Pete was the blame, why were the Rays 100% behind a new stadium that was farther from Tampa and tougher to get to?

    Like I’ve said before, Stu bought this team with a bad stadium and a horrible TV contract. He only had to look across the state to see that winning baseball didn’t translate into attendance. They have suppressed attendance since 2010 by increasing season ticket prices. So please forgive me if I don’t shed any tears while he continues to make a healthy profit off of this team and never brings up a new TV deal as a huge source of income increase. Bankruptcy is a farce. Besides, if a new stadium was going to be a money maker, Stu could make a few phone calls and have the funding for a stadium and the money to pay off St Pete. SHINEY NEW TOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  6. LargoBuc says:

    The Rays are hot right now and all anyone wants to talk about is this Montreal bs. WTF! No one thought the Rays would compete this year and here we are in mid June and were the hottest team in baseball. Screw the corporate bs. Im enjoying some Rays baseball. The stadium spit will solve itself.

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  7. edward williams says:

    for some reason espn, and the national media, and yes even the local media, love to hammer the fans in this area, all you have to do is look in the local paper everyday and it always has something to say about the attendance, when it is good , you very rarely see anything good about the fans that attended the game, example is when the rays are home you always see that 10,000 or so mark in the paper and some comment after it even if it is a win. But when they are on the road, there is no mention on how bad the attendance is, and you can see how bad it is on tv. Im not sure what the average is throughout the league but it can't be that good. Unless you are one of the major market teams, and than they don't even always look that full. I have been here since 1986 and I remember when other teams would fill up tampa stadium during buc games. I think there is something in the water here ,lol , it is so negative when it comes to the fans. I read an article in the paper today about how this area still isn't considered a hockey town, that is so laughable. Maybe I am just seeing things that aren't really there, but I don't think so. I also believe that the ownership for the rays has something to do with it also, until I read it on line I didn't know that you could get 7 dollar tickets up in the party deck. I have been to a few games this year and that was the first I had heard of it, mind you I don't mind paying 20 dollars or so for a ticket, I really enjoy the experience but I think that the rays could market the team better also, as for moving to tampa, I think the attendance would be better, but not for long, I don't think it would go back to what it is now , but you never know , if the ownership doesn't start putting more effort into getting better players and maybe start spending some more money on free agents, than the everything will stay the same. Sorry I didn't mean to vent like this but once I started it was hard to stop lol. I am real excited this year about the way the team has played, I hope that they can continue it, im hoping that when everybody gets back off the dl, they don't regress. Well that is enough for now, thanks for letting me vent some. GO RAYS!!!!!

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