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Montreal investment group seeks share of the Rays, want games in Olympic Stadium

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Olympic Stadium Photo by Charles Laberge/Getty Images

Stephen Bronfman, son of former Expos owner Charles Bronfman, has been seeking to bring baseball back to Montreal for many years now, and according to French-speaking newspaper La Presse, the next step in realizing that dream could involve the Tampa Bay Rays.

The article, written by three authors at La Presse and citing ‘a number of sources,’ says Bronfman’s investment group is seeking a future where the Rays play a portion of their home games in Montreal at Olympic Stadium, the former home of the Expos.

In order to facilitate the process, the group of Quebec investors would like to become a minority shareholder of the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays are currently owned by a plurality of owners, with the majority (48%) held by the Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg and former majority owner Vince Naimoli (15%), with the remaining 37% divided among 16 limited partners.

Neither the Rays or the Bronfman investment group commented for Le Presse’s story, but it should be noted that the Bronfman group’s investment does not appear to be necessary for this to become a reality.

The Rays can play up to 10 games outside Tropicana Field

The Tampa Bay Rays previously negotiated the ability for the team to play up to 10 home games per season outside of Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties (referred to as “Excused Games”) when they signed the Memorandum of Understanding proposed by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman in January of 2016.

The MOU was designed to allow the Rays to search for a new stadium location within Tampa Bay, providing terms for the Rays to terminate their use agreement for Tropicana Field.

Buried within the agreement was paragraph 6, section D, subsection vi:

vi. For purposes of this MOU, “Excused Games” means those Home Games that are not played due to a Force Majeure Event; and up to ten (10) Home Games per MLB season played at a facility that is not located in Pinellas or Hillsborough.

According to paragraph 9 of the MOU, the terms of survival protect paragraph 6 beyond the “expiration or earlier termination of this MOU.”

The Rays formally concluded their search in December last year without initiating termination of their lease agreement with the city, thus closing the search window provided by the MOU, but it would appear the “Excused Games” provision lives on.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays
n overall view of Tropicana Field between the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees. from 2018 | To mitigate attendance issues, the Rays will close the upper deck for regular season games in 2019
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Precedent for two-city teams

In concluding the article on this Montreal baseball development, Le Presse offered a list of teams who had previously played regular season home games in multiple cities, with examples from the NFL and NHL, but an ironic precedent for MLB:

The Montreal Expos (Major League Baseball) played 44 games over two seasons in Puerto Rico in 2003 and 2004

Prior to the Expos games in San Juan, the Brooklyn Dodgers played games in Jersey City in 1957, and the Chicago White Sox played 11 games in Milwaukee in both 1968 and 1969.

The Rays have previously played home games outside of Tampa Bay, both in Orlando and internationally. The former occurred in 2007 after Sternberg’s ownership group took control of the Devil Rays for a three-game series at Disney’s Wide World of Sports against the Texas Rangers.

As a form of international outreach, MLB has held regular season games in Mexico, Australia and Japan in recent years, including a two game series between the Devil Rays and the Yankees in the Tokyo Dome in 2004; MLB will further expand its outreach to London in 2019. You can find the full list of regular season games played outside the US and Canada here.