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Investors named in Montreal's pursuit of Rays

It may still be a long shot, but the rumors are real.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Much of the details on the Rays and a potential move to Montreal have been published in Canada, but not widely circulated here. I missed it, you missed it, and that's because it's been in French.

La Presse, a newspaper in Montreal, announced that investors had met the owner and manager of the Tampa Bay Rays twice last spring to test the waters and gauge the possibility of moving the team to the American League in Montreal last week shortly after the New York Daily News revealed that the owner of the Rays, Stu Sternberg, had contacted colleagues in New York to explore the possibility of moving the club.

The big debate around the legitimacy of these rumors has been who would own the Rays if they moved. If Stu is speaking with investors in New York, that could mean some of his minority investors, or possibly some new faces to take over the club. Faces that have been nameless, until now.

Last Thursday, La Presse went so far as to publish a list of Quebec billionaires and one corporation interested in investing in the return of major league baseball in Montreal.

Stephen Bronfman, former Expos minority owner

Bell Canada Enterprises, Inc.

Larry Rossy, CEO of Dollarama

Mitch Garber, CEO of Caesars Acquisition Company

The first on the list is the biggest news of all. Bronfman was a long-time shareholder in the old Expos, through his family and later on his own once controlling interests shifted.

Stephen Bronfman's father, Charles, was the majority owner of the Expos between 1969 and 1991, and after the ownership transfer, Stephen became a minority shareholder from 1999 until 2004. Bronfman has, by all accounts, maintained his ties within Major League Baseball, and would likely head up the team as the public face of the ownership group, joined by the other CEO's listed above as shareholders.

The one-two punch here is the Bronfman name, powerfully paired with the corporate sponsor Bell.

If my memory serves, Bell was the company Jonah Keri put forward in either his book or an interview as a possible savior for the city. Their rival telecom giant is Rogers, who have massive control and interest in the Blue Jays, which creates complications for Bell's revenue streams. Bell recently lost their television hockey contract to Rodgers, and they might want a better position in the TV market.

The other obstacle in all of this would be a stadium -- one with a roof -- somewhere in the sprawling city. The Big O is not suitable to the sport of baseball (it never was), and the province of Quebec is under austerity measures at the moment.

A study by Ernst & Young unveiled in December 2013 indicated a new stadium in downtown is essential to the project of bringing baseball back to Quebec. The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal paid half the bill for the $800,000 study, while ten business people paid the other half. The identity of the business community in question has not been disclosed, but the list above helps paint the picture.

The Molson family, the majority shareholder of the Montreal Canadiens and part of the Board, is not involved in the group interested in baseball. Some interesting history, however, is that the Molsons recently outbid Stephen Bronfman for controlling interest in the Montreal Canadiens in 2009.

The EY study estimates the full cost of bringing an established franchise to Montreal to be about $1.025 billion: $500 million for a stadium in the city center, and $525 million for the team. That's about four times the amount of money La Presse indicates the Canadian investors are ready to spend, though that number could grow.

If Sternberg wants to remain with the Rays in the move, he could likely work out a transfer of 40% of the controlling interest to the group of investors for the funds currently available, and partner with Bell to make the logistics of television and stadium financing come to fruition, but it's unlikely the city of Montreal will have an interest in footing part of the stadium bill.

There's a lot going on here, so skepticism is appropriate. Perhaps even a spoonful of salt, but any way you slice it, one thing is true: Since the departure of the Expos in 2004, this is the first time that credible investors have openly expressed either interest or genuine desire to bring baseball back to Montreal.

Let's all hope for expansion instead.

Source: La Presse - Retour du baseball: l'équipe d'actionnaires prend forme