The last time we heard rumblings of the Rays and relocation was on the twitter whisperings of a writer for Detroit, which was a vague notion at best. Now with Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon walking out the door, those rumors are gaining more traction.
according to a report in the New York Daily News, which focused on Maddon's likely route to Chicago now that he's free to explore free agency, was that Stu Sternberg has discussed moving the club out of the low attendance of Tropicana Field, and across the border to baseball-starved Montreal.
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has been frustrated in his efforts to get out of Tropicana Field in St. Pete and move to a new stadium in Tampa, but there is growing belief that the economically depressed Tampa Bay area won't support the Rays no matter where they play. And according to sources, Sternberg has had discussions with wealthy Wall Street associates about moving the Rays to Montreal, which has been without a major-league franchise since the Expos were transferred to Washington in 2005. As one major-league official put it to me Friday: "Say what you will about Montreal, but the Expos drew well over two million fans four times there in their heyday, while the Rays did that only once, their first year.
News that investors on Wall Street are looking for a way to send the Rays to Canada fittingly comes from a New York publication, and Bill Madden is a respectable writer. He's also a known funnel for the former commissioner.
Spokesman for Commissioner, whose job it is to scare taxpayers into building free stadiums, tries to scare taxpayers. http://t.co/wcq8gL94RU— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) October 25, 2014
Whatever it is, at the end of the day this is finally more than a twitter rumbling, and the motivations for a change are everything you'd fear for the mainstream media to pick up on:
As for the Rays, the Friedman/Maddon defections signal a return to losing baseball and irrelevance in Tampa. Yes, both of them opted out for significant increases in salary, but after last year's disappointing 77-85 fourth-place finish, they both realized they'd done all they could do in Tampa, and despite consistent 90-win seasons with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, the Rays played to a half-empty (or worse) stadium night after night. That, more than anything, wore on Maddon and his players, the manager told confidants.
It's all there. Money, losing record, bad attendance. Nothing about tv ratings that most large market teams would envy, but who am I to say the analysis is incomplete, particularly when MLBTR is there to make the point for me.
TV contracts are everything, from a financial perspective, and the Rays' new contract in 2017 could multiply that source of revenue by four or five times from it's current base of $20M. If you let that coincide with the $100M available and TIF money and there's high incentive for the city of Tampa to swoop in before it's too late.
Montreal to host more Spring Training games
Perhaps the rumblings of a move are just posturing on the part of Sternberg and the Commissioner's office, it's the popular response; on the other hand, maybe the timing is just right for that new deal to coincide with a sale.
The rumors are simply that the team would move, but if you'd like to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay, you might need to start considering the sale of the Tampa Bay Rays a very real possibility - perhaps across the Bay to Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who has been buying up the land downtown with the investors that built Coors field.
As an active voice behind the scenes in the baseball community, though, my best guess would be that Sternberg would hold on to his team.
In the end, my best encouragement is to be careful what you wish for. On Friday, Ian called for Sternberg to go ahead and face reality, to blow up the Tampa Bay Rays. This all takes that notion a little too literally.