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Recapping the Rays Montreal Split-City Proposal press conference

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Rays owner Stuart Sternberg shares his “creative, sensible, extraordinary solution” to save baseball in Tampa Bay

The Rays sought a positive and enthusiastic tone as the team’s principal owner and presidents announced from the St. Petersburg waterfront their intent to split the franchise’s home games between two locales — Montreal and Tampa Bay — beginning in 2024.

You can watch the hour-long press conference below, and read our recap in bullet point form:

The Rays’ prepared statements:

  • The press conference began with an introduction by the director of the Dali Museum, Hank Hine, who encouraged the art of using the unexpected to “bring new solutions” and called the Rays his “fellow surrealists.”
  • After an introduction by principal owner Stuart Sternberg, the Rays began the press conference by allowing team president Brian Auld to do something rare for this organization: discuss its nonprofit work and dedication to the local community, a source of “pride” for the team
  • Tampa Bay’s leadership strongly reemphasized their mission statement to “Energize the community through the magic of Rays Baseball”
  • The Rays are proud of their corporate citizenship, including: quality minimum wage and family-leave policies, foster-care partnership and “forever home” matching, construction of children’s playgrounds across the region, partnerships with transportation and policing programs, military and first-responder donations, opposition to confederate statues, disaster relief in Puerto Rico, the partnership with CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse) to prevent domestic violence, and as an ally to the LGBTQ community
  • Auld emphasized the team’s dedication to do “the right things for the right reasons,” despite stumbles along the way (citing the Cashless initiative)
  • Taking the mic again, Sternberg restated his intent to find a plan that “guarantees the future of baseball in Tampa Bay” and emphasized his love for the local community, despite its challenges in disparate locations around the bay
  • After describing the community as “driven by migration and tourism,” Sternberg says, “We are simply not well suited” to fill a baseball stadium for 81 games per season
  • Sternberg emphasized the proposal is “not a staged exit” and passionately rejected ideas that he is using “a page out of a playbook to gain leverage,” and reemphasized his intent to find a way for baseball to thrive in Tampa Bay
  • Sternberg described a new multi-use ballpark built “not just spring training, but regular season games” played outdoors in Tampa Bay. He would later confirm the Rays are open to moving spring training operations from Port Charlotte back to Tampa Bay in the Q&A session
  • Montreal was identified as the only intended city to share the franchise in this proposal. Sternberg described Montreal fans who may visit Tampa Bay in turn as an economic driver. “That community will come here in droves.”
  • Sternberg described the plan as having “huge issues to surmount” but reiterated his intent to stay in Tampa Bay. “It’s not about relocation, it’s not about negotiating ploys, it’s about a new norm — a better norm.” He then concluded his prepared remarks by reiterating the team’s enthusiasm and determination to overcome obstacles to make this proposal a reality.

Then the Q&A Session began. Here is the information we learned:

  • The vision of this proposal is for two new stadiums, and Sternberg reiterated it would be one business entity and one franchise. To paraphrase: ‘One dollar earned here and two there is three dollars for the organization.’ So presumably one organization would build both stadiums
  • The Rays would be open to upgrading Al Lang Field for their new Tampa Bay outdoor multi-use stadium. No financing has been lined up in either region, and no city has been set in the Tampa Bay area
  • Sternberg met prospective Montreal principl owner Stephen Bronfman a few years ago as he sought expansion, and he soon after inquired on purchasing the Rays, which Sternberg declined (“in 12seconds”)
  • Slow to acknowledge it, Sternberg eventually relented to say the Montreal ownership group — which recently acquired land in downtown Montreal for a stadium — would likely purchase a portion of the team
  • The team would have preferred to wait until the offseason to discuss this proposal — as was company policy — but the team could not control the timing of when MLB would approve their idea and previous commitments to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman
  • Issues regarding team name or playoff locations are to be determined at a far later date when the proposal is “a thing that can actually happen”
  • Two local business people in attendance used Q&A time to praise the team’s ingenuity in crafting this proposal, with one calling it “genius”
  • The commissioner’s office/staff was “overwhelmingly in favor of pursuing” the proposal for split cities, which — if accurate — says a lot about what MLB thinks of the Rays situation in Tampa Bay
  • The Rays believe it’s “highly unlikely” 81 games can work in Tampa Bay, and if the plan fails, “we’re here through 2027 regardless” and Sternberg repeating that he has no intention of selling this baseball team
  • Presumably to help justify the cost of a new stadium in Tampa Bay, the Rays appeared open to relocating Spring Training back to the region from Port Charlotte
  • In conclusion, it seems a bit obvious that the Rays may have been intentional in choosing the Dali Museum for not only its thematic relevance, but it’s physical relevance as well. It is located next to Al Lang Field, which is home to the Rowdies soccer team (which the Rays also own) and was the location of their proposed open-air stadium in 2008.
  • Conspicuously absent from the event was Kriseman, who spoke to Topkin after the press conference and for the first time appeared open to a new stadium in St. Petersburg ... but without public funding