Is there a Montreal Expos return on the horizon? Will there be MLB in Montreal again? Should the Tampa Bay Rays relocate to Montreal? Lots of great questions and the answer is maybe! Here are my thoughts below on the debate.
The Current Dismal Attendance Problem
2019 has been brutal for the Tampa Bay Rays and their fan base attendance at Tropicana Field. 2019 attendance in major league baseball is down for many teams, but the Rays are the most compelling case by far. The Rays are one of the best teams in baseball record-wise, but they have the second-lowest average home attendance in the game.
Tropicana Field had the lowest attendance ever the previous week. The crowd made history as the lowest attended game for Rays in their career. I wrote about why is the audience is so small at Tropicana Field if you want my insight, but relocation may be in the future. Should the Tampa Bay Rays relocate to Montreal is a popular question many people ask.
The Fail of Ybor City Means Florida May Not be an Option Moving Forward
The Rays were gearing up to make a serious pitch to play in Ybor City in 2018, but plans fell apart. Both the city and the Rays could not agree on how to finance the stadium deal of $900 million to have home games in Ybor City, so the Rays will remain in St. Petersburg for the time being. Principal owner, Stuart Sternberg, was trying to get more from the city to keep the Rays and attract corporate sponsors, but the two sides could not come together.
The AL East Opportunity for Moving to Montreal
The American League East is where the Rays play today. If you look at a map, you will see how far Florida is from New York, Boston, Toronto, and Baltimore. That’s not saying fans don’t travel to St. Pete to catch their team play the Rays, but let’s flip this around.
Moving a baseball team to Montreal, you automatically create a short distance to the other four clubs in the American League East. Most notably, you will get a shot in the arm with the Canadian rivalry with Toronto only a few hours away. While the New York Yankees and Red Sox increase the attendance at the Trop, Toronto can add another nine games of large crowds to Montreal each season. You can imagine more fans coming from Boston and New York to see their team without having to fly always.
Public Transportation, Big City Dreams, and a Booming Economy
You can’t do much worse than where the Trop is in Florida. You might think the Trop is in Tampa, but it’s not. The location of the venue is in the city of St Petersburg, which sits about 30 minutes away from downtown Tampa on one long bridge. You can imagine how long of a drive this can be if you are out in Orlando or further from Tampa.
Venues like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park have the advantage of multiple ways for fans to get to the stadium. Busses, trains, commuter rails, and more can brings fans to the game. The location of the Trop pretty much guarantees a long wait in your car, which is not ideal for fans outside St Pete.
Having a stadium in a busy city like Montreal would be ideal. Over 1.7 million people live in Montreal compared to the 300k in Tampa. Already you are giving the Rays to a much larger population to take in baseball. Not to mention that the average income in Montreal is over 70k while Tampa is in the mid-’50s. From an economic standpoint, Montreal is bigger and more lucrative than Tampa could ever be.
A Stadium Already Exists in Montreal
I never went to Olympic Stadium, so I don’t know how the venue is. You can look at the Washington Nationals of a team moving to a different city and playing in an older park before their new site is ready. It’s not crazy to think that the Rays could get some quality life out of Olympic Stadium before moving into their much desired new home. From an economic standpoint, the Rays can move to a new location where a stadium already exists before considering building a new place.
Canadians Love Baseball
It might be hard to imagine, but Canada loves baseball. When the Montreal Expos were playing in the ’90s, they were getting over a million fans per season. In the ’80s, the Expos were getting over two million fans per season. The Expos were one of the favorite teams up in Montreal, so the atmosphere for game series in the city was high.
The Toronto Blue Jays were a massive draw in the ’90s with their World Series victories as well. Rogers Centre is a colossal ballpark, but there was a time when they were selling out most games. When the team plays well, you can expect the fans to come out. The Rays are playing well, so you can put two and two together.
The Expos Left in 2004, so Don’t Forget that it Did not Work.
This post is in favor of Montreal getting another MLB team, but we can’t forget that the Expos left the city in 2004. The most common reason why the team attendance fell apart was the owners selling off their best players. If you look at the 2019 Miami Marlins out at LoanDepot Park, you will see the same issue as the Expos. A franchise that turns it’s back on their fans will not be rewarded with big turnouts. The Marlins got rid of their best talent, so now they average less than 10k fans per game.
Will Montreal ever get another MLB team? The petition to bring baseball back to Montreal seems to grow all the time. Businessman, Stephen Bronfman, has been teasing this position for a while now. The Rays are fascinating because they make the most sense for an organization to move. Montreal will keep the Rays in the AL East which makes sense from a competitive and financial advantage. It only comes down to what the Rays do in Florida and what MLB wants to do with the team in the Tampa area.
The drawback on the plan is that the Rays have to stay in Florida until 2027. After 2027, the Rays will have an uncertain future with where they ultimately stay. In my opinion, I don’t think Tropicana Field is a dump, but a location problem. Here is my review of Tropicana Field if you want to give it a read, or check out the Tampa Bay Rays parking situation.
Will Montreal get a baseball team is up for debate, but should the Tampa Bay Rays relocate to Montreal seems to make more sense than not?