Last summer the Tampa Bay Rays floated the idea of becoming a two-city team, playing half of their games in the Tampa Bay Area and half of their games in Montreal. In this scenario, the Rays believe, they would get two new stadiums: an open air ballpark in the Tampa Bay area for spring and fall games and an open-air stadium in Montreal for games in the summer. How they think they can get two cities to build them two ballparks when they can’t even get one city to build them one ballpark is an interesting question that the Rays have not yet answered, but cut them some slack. They’re big picture people.
In December, it seemed like the two-city idea was dead. The plan would’ve needed sign-off from St. Petersburg, Florida, you see, because they have an iron-clad contract with the Rays requiring them to play in Tropicana Field through the 2027 season. That lease 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. St. Pete engaged in talks with the Rays to explore the idea, but cut them off when talks went nowhere and said that they expected the Rays to abide by their lease.
Someone hasn’t told Rob Manfred or the Rays that, apparently. Or else they’re ignoring it, because today Manfred talked up the idea anew at the owners meetings currently taking place. From the Tampa Bay Times:
Major League Baseball officials and owners now see the season-sharing plan with Montreal proposed by the Rays as the best way — “100 percent” — to keep a team, albeit part time, in the Tampa Bay market, commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday.
“People continue to believe that the two-city alternative they’re exploring is viable and could be a really good solution for keeping baseball in Tampa Bay,” Manfred told the Tampa Bay Times after a scheduled owners meeting.
“I continue to be impressed by the energy that they’ve devoted to the project. And to the fact there is significant receptivity among our group, and excitement in some quarters about the possibility.”
I will note that Manfred’s statement doesn’t seem to acknowledge the idea that St. Pete has zero interest in letting the Rays use them as a leverage ploy for Montreal and even less of an incentive to do so. Given their rock solid legal right to prevent this from happening and their stated opposition to it happening, I feel like what the “people” on city council might be “saying” is more important here than a group of baseball owners, but what do I know?
Legalities aside, my personal feelings on this are no different now than they were last summer when this first came up. I suspect the two city plan is aimed at either (a) pressuring people in the Tampa Bay area to build the Rays a full-time ballpark for fear that the team will leave; or (b) providing a basis for saying “hey, we tried” if, later, the Rays get Montreal to build them one and they move the team to Montreal full time. There’s also likely some hope on the part of MLB and team owners that the Rays can somehow pull off a huge coup by double-dipping on TV money, selling cable packages to both Montreal and Tampa Bay.
All of that makes business sense if they can pull it off. But it’d also be extraordinarily hostile to fans, whose loyalty to the team would be rewarded by having half the games taken away and players and team employees who would be expected to maintain two households and move in the middle of the baseball season every year. Even if they did pull it off, though, what nickname the team will go by? Who gets the postseason games? Who gets makeup games for early season rainouts? 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 think it might work for them.
Which is to say, no one has answered how this makes any sense from a baseball perspective, even if it suits the business interests of the Tampa Bay Rays’ owners. But hey, how is that in any way new in 21st Century Major League Baseball?