Rays’ plan to play half-seasons in Montreal is dead

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Back in June the Rays announced a rather harebrained idea of becoming a two-city team, with their springs to be played in the Tampa area and their summers to be played in Montreal.

At the time I was dubious, thinking that it was tactic hatched in order to spur interest in Montreal for building the team a relatively modest new stadium — one which wouldn’t require a roof since it was just for the summer — which, somewhere along the line, would transform from a two-city plan into a fully-blown move into a fully-blown retractable roof park. The idea being that, hey, they’re only asking for a little money at first, only to see the plan expand a little bit here and there as time went on to where it made more sense simply to relocate in-full. A long stadium con, if you will, in which Montreal taxpayers were slowly goaded into giving Stuart Sternberg a couple of billion dollars into giving it to him all at once.

But even if you took it at face value, such a plan would’ve needed sign-off from St. Petersburg, Florida, which as you likely know, has an iron-clad contract with the Rays requiring them to play in Tropicana Field through the 2027 season and which prohibits the team from even talking to other cities or exploring other stadium options that would affect where the team plays prior to the end of the lease (the two-city plan was envisioned to take effect by 2024). To that end the team and the city had been having talks along those lines, but yesterday St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman released the following statement, announcing the breaking off of talks:

“Both parties have agreed that the best path forward is to abide by the existing use agreement with the understanding that the agreement allows for the Rays Organization to explore post-2027 split or full season opportunities, both in St. Petersburg and elsewhere.”

He likewise vowed, as he and his predecessors have long vowed, that St. Petersburg would not be giving the Rays any money for a new ballpark.

Stuart Sternburg responded:

“We agree generally with Mayor Kriseman’s characterization of our months of conversations, though we would like to clarify two points,” Sternberg said in a statement released by the team. “First, we do not agree that this is the best path forward. Second, we asked for the opportunity to explore this concept with both St. Petersburg and Montreal, and with Tampa and Montreal.

“We recognize that we must now consider our post-2027 options and all that entails, and we remain steadfast in our belief that the Sister City concept is deserving of serious consideration.”

Whatever. The two-city plan — any two-city plan — was dumb from the get-go.

Even if everyone wanted to do it, who gets playoff games? If a game was rained out in City 1 in April and cannot be replayed until August, Does City 2 get the makeup game, causing City 1 to suffer a total loss of one, or more, of their allocated games? How do you foster business partnerships between the team and the community? How do you staff a front office — marketing, promotions, business ops, etc. —  in two cities? What happens when, as will inevitably happen, one city sours on the arrangement and games there become a chore or an exercise in bad optics? There will be a favorite. There is always a favorite. Open marriages don’t work, folks, even if the Rays thought it might work for them.

All of this was doomed from the start, in my view. Doomed at best. More likely it was a ploy designed to get Montreal to dip a toe into the stadium-building conversation in a low-leverage way and to put some pressure on St. Pete and/or Tampa in a way that was permitted under the lease, resulting in one party or the other trying to outflank and out-promise the other.

All of it, of course, is tied up in the notion that the people who own the Rays want someone else to foot the bill for a new ballpark.