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What the Montreal, Two-City proposal means for St. Petersburg and the Rays

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Questions abound as the team remains silent on the matter until Tuesday.

62nd MLB All-Star Game
Dennis Martinez #32 of the Montreal Expos looks on during the 1991 MLB All Star Game at the SkyDome on July 9, 1991 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

There is a story in the Old Testament where King Solomon is brought a baby by two mothers who each claim the child is theirs.

They argued back and forth in front of Solomon, until finally he said, “Both of you say this live baby is yours. Someone bring me a sword.”

A sword was brought, and Solomon ordered, “Cut the baby in half! That way each of you can have part of him.”

“Please don’t kill my son,” the baby’s mother screamed. “Your Majesty, I love him very much, but give him to her. Just don’t kill him.” The other woman shouted, “Go ahead and cut him in half. Then neither of us will have the baby.”

Solomon said, “Don’t kill the baby.” Then he pointed to the first woman, “She is his real mother. Give the baby to her.” Everyone in Israel was amazed when they heard how Solomon had made his decision. They realized that God had given him wisdom to judge fairly.

[1 Kings 3]

And so history may soon repeat itself with the Tampa Bay Rays, but this time the baby is baseball.

Yesterday afternoon we learned the Rays are seriously considering a two-city solution to their stadium struggles. Seeking a way to draw more fans to the stadium, and thereby increase revenue, the Rays have received permission from Major League Baseball to consider splitting their season’s home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal, presumably with a new stadium built in each city.

There are many stumbling blocks to realizing this scheme. We cannot speak to what we do not know — about how the MLBPA would react or exactly why a free agent would choose such a scenario for his family to live through in the regular season — but there are hurdles that are clear to understand from the jump.

The Politics

First, in St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s view, the current “use agreement” for Tropicana Field’s lease requires St. Petersburg’s permission before the Rays can even have a conversation with another city about playing baseball there.

Indeed, just last week Kriseman and Ken Hagan were chirping at each other about whether Rays ownership could be carrying on even preliminary discussions with Hillsborough County officials without violating that contract.

If the first step to sharing the team between two cities is getting the approval of St. Petersburg leadership, that seems like a nonstarter, as Kriseman has made clear he would not allow such a plan in both February and now June of this year; this time he called the proposal “silly.”

Politically, this proposal is dead on arrival, as was communicated months ago.

The Stadium(s)

Second, how would two markets support a stadium and payroll for the full enterprise without clear access to the huge broadcast and corporate sponsorship revenues of either market? Will the proposed future Ex-Rays get revenues at full value in each city?

It’s not clear how splitting potential revenue in half will make either of these markets more viable. Playing half the home games could potentially mean fewer sponsors and fewer tickets sold, and it won’t make either stadium cheaper to build.

It’s easy to speculate that, given the different climates of the two cities, the sharing arrangement might allow you to build stadiums without domes, having teams play cool weather games in Tampa/St. Pete and warm weather games in Montreal. But this would simply make the stadiums a tad less expensive and raises other issues (such as where you would play postseason games).

True, broadcast rights are one area where revenue could go up. But with the Rays essentially operating on a year-to-year contract until Sinclair takes over the local broadcast, the only takeaway here is that you are definitely doubling the COST of stadium construction because you can't build half a stadium. With this spoken of as a long-term idea, is all of Quebec + North and Central Florida able to generate enough Television revenue to compensate for lost revenue in the stadium itself?

As a counterpoint, the Rays had indeed proposed their scuttled new stadium in Ybor would be available for year-round use, and they also now control the second-tier Rowdies soccer team (and that team’s stadium on St. Petersburg’s waterfront).

One could see this year-round use and soccer elements coalescing into one new stadium proposal to meet all of St. Petersburg’s needs. But that assumes the city says yes, which brings us back to point one.

The team’s proposed design for Ybor would have allowed fans to use the field when the stadium is not in use by the team.

Is there something else going on here?

Overall, without further details, this “proposal” strikes us as less a real plan and more a fascinating way to increase the heat on Tampa Bay leadership by holding the hopes and dreams of Montreal ransom. That means pressuring Rick Kriseman, whose leverage recedes with each passing year, to let the team look around the region (although they have not asked for permission to do so — one could consider all of this a preemptive strike).

This proposal also means pressuring Hillsborough and Tampa leadership to cough up some financial commitments and pressuring business leaders on both sides of the Bay to up their commitments too (perhaps through a 1% tax increase that was voted for and enacted in Hillsborough County two months ago). And not just the political leaders, but the business leaders as well.

Additionally, and most curious of all, is that it’s not clear why the Rays would be engaged in such a dramatic proposal so quickly, particularly when one 10-game home stand (which seems to be allowed by the MOU signed in 2016), or a more limited proposed share of games (like when the Expos played 22 games in San Juan in the 2003-04 seasons) could ring the warning bells just the same.

A dramatic proposal with so many questions to be answered and no clarity until a press conference on Tuesday means a week of speculation and damaging headlines in the Tampa Bay Times, all of which will assume this is just a new take on an old classic: the threat of relocation.