It’s been fifteen years since a regular season game has been played at the Montreal’s Olympic Stadium but the wait may be coming to an end.
Despite clinching a playoff spot for the first time in six years, the Tampa Bay Rays still ended up dead last in the American League for attendance. The Rays have struggled to generate income for the last seven seasons. If nothing changes soon, the league may push the team to move away from Tampa Bay, and the league already has a candidate city in mind: Montreal.
Reporters leaked at the start of the 2019 season that Major League Baseball is planning to return a franchise in Montreal. If that franchise is the Rays, the only dilemma is whether it will be a complete move, or if the franchise will spend half its time in Montreal and the other half in Tampa Bay, avoiding the cold Montreal winter
It wouldn’t be Montreal’s first team of course. The city hosted the Expos from 1969 to 2004. When the Expos left, it was not because their fans didn’t care or that the city couldn’t support them. According to a report by the Conference Board of Canada, despite healthy attendance at the games, the Expos still lacked the budget to compete with other teams for player contracts. It was an unbalanced playing field with other teams whose World Series wins helped boost the clubs’ ability to attract star players, bettering their teams and organization as a whole.
Montreal had been a favourite place to play for many players both as Expos and as visitors. The home fans in Jarry Park Stadium–later Olympic Stadium–were always loud and involved in the game, no matter the score, always rooting for their team. The Montreal Expos are the reason why Canadian baseball fans are considered to be extremely passionate.
When the Expos were forced to fold, it created an opportunity for a new franchise. In 2005, the Washington Nationals were established. The Nationals proceeded to win two East Division titles in 2012 and 2014 and just this year won their first World Series in franchise history.
Meanwhile, thousands of former Expos fans began supporting the Toronto Blue Jays. Prior to the Expos folding, the Jays averaged approximately 1,600,000 fans a game. Then without Montreal, for the next four years, Jays attendance jumped up to around 2,300,000.
While the Blue Jays might stand to lose attendance if the Expos return, the team is supporting the idea for now. As Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said, “Montreal is a great city with great baseball history and tradition.”
For this year’s spring training, the Blue Jays will be playing a series of games at the Olympic Stadium which the MLB hopes will attract attention.
In June, during the 2019 season, the Tampa Bay Rays received formal permission to explore a dual franchise between Tampa Bay and Montreal. The dual franchise in a nutshell means that the ball club will be shared between the two cities. For the first portion of the season games will be played in Tampa Bay and the second half in Montreal. The new organization would unfortunately have to rename themselves and create a new logo.
When this idea of splitting the Rays franchised leaked, many people in Florida were furious. That same month, Rick Kriseman, the mayor of St. Petersburg’s–where the Ray’s stadium is–spoke out saying this idea was “silly” and he had no interest in discussing the idea. Although players and fans of the Tampa Bay Rays are furious about the idea, the fact that their stadium is the most disliked in the league and they fact that they have averaged fewer than 16,000 fans each of the past five years give them little leverage.
In order for the Rays to permanently stay in Tampa, it’ll take a lot of work and some big changes to be made throughout the organization. If changes are not beginning to be made the MLB will begin the process of splitting the organization. If this proposal becomes reality, the MLB has demanded that both stadiums are to be rebuilt.
Image Credit: Flickr / Mike Durkin