Rays Owner Gives Limited Details On How Montreal Plan Would Work
Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg declared it is "highly unlikely" the team would stay in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area beyond '27 -- when the team's lease at Tropicana Field ends -- if the proposed dual-city plan with Montreal is not successful, according to Owens & Kritzer of the TAMPA BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL. The Rays envision new ballparks in both St. Pete and Montreal, though Sternberg gave no details on how much they "might cost, where they would be located or how they would be financed." Under Sternberg's vision, the Rays would "play the first half of the season in St. Pete in an open-air ballpark and leave for Montreal when the Florida heat makes outdoor games unbearable." The plan for a dual-city team "seems destined for failure if Sternberg is counting on" St. Pete for financing. St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman issued a statement after Sternberg's news conference yesterday, saying the city "will not participate in the funding" of a new ballpark for a "part-time team" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 6/25). In Tampa, Josh Solomon noted Kriseman and the Rays are "very far apart on this issue" and their relationship "appears strained." After issuing his statement, Kriseman later in the day "took to Twitter and encouraged fans to keep supporting the Rays -- on the field" (TAMPABAY.com, 6/25).
TOEING THE LINE: In Tampa, Marc Topkin in a front-page piece notes the Rays said that the proposed Montreal plan is "not in any way a step toward moving the team completely out of the Tampa Bay area." Sternberg said, "This is not a staged exit. That thought has never entered my mind. This is not us taking even one glance toward a relocation to Montreal." He added, "This is not a page out of a playbook to gain leverage. We are focused on this plan." But the team did acknowledge the plan "could be all but the last chance to keep" MLB in the Tampa Bay area, "albeit on a limited basis." Sternberg said of the Rays pursuing a new full-time home in Tampa-St. Pete, "We never say never but after all we've been through and what we've learned it's highly unlikely." Sternberg also noted Kriseman will be out of office in '22, and said, "If I have to do this with the next mayor I'll do it with the next mayor" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 6/26). Sternberg said that an "ideal target date" for the proposed Montreal plan "would have everything in place" for the '24 season (AP, 6/25).
GAUGING INTEREST: Sternberg said that he is "not planning to sell the team (but would take on some Montreal investors as minority partners), and that even if this doesn't work they plan to honor the use agreement" at Tropicana Field through '27 (TAMPABAY.com, 6/25). SPORTSNET.ca's Shi Davidi noted in the proposed Montreal plan, there would be "one ownership" -- Sternberg would "critically remain the control person" with MLB. That would essentially grant him "final word on the club." Sternberg "confirmed he's had multiple meetings" with Montreal businessman Stephen Bronfman, who is "leading efforts to bring baseball back" to the city. But Sternberg also "pointed out that he's already rejected more substantive overtures from Bronfman and his group" (SPORTSNET.ca, 6/25). CBSSPORTS.com's R.J. Anderson wrote if Sternberg "wants out so badly, to the point where he's presenting these cockamamie schemes, he can sell the Rays and go buy another club." Instead, Sternberg "seems committed to alienating the Tampa Bay region" (CBSSPORTS.com, 6/25).
DECISION TIME: In Tampa, John Romano noted Sternberg "made it clear he does not think baseball works full time here." He "didn't say this was a take-it-or-leave-it proposal, but he came very close" (TAMPABAY.com, 6/25). Romano in a separate front-page piece writes at this point, the Tampa market seems to have "three basic choices" in regard to the Rays' future. The first choice is to "embrace" Sternberg's Montreal plan. The second is to "continue working on a plan to build a more elaborate, and expensive," ballpark and "gamble that Sternberg is not serious." The last choice is to "accept our fate and acknowledge Tampa Bay has neither the money nor the population to remain a player in the big leagues" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 6/26). ESPN’s Buster Olney said this is a “mirage” because there are “so many hurdles” to overcome for the Rays to split their home games. Olney: “Imagine trying to get the Montreal investors to spend hundreds of millions on a ballpark while getting only half a schedule. The same thing for the folks in St. Pete if you’re going to try to sell them on a new ballpark for half a schedule, and we haven’t even talked about the players’ association going along with this" (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 6/25).
PLENTY STILL TO FIGURE OUT: THE ATHLETIC's Greg Auman wrote the "puzzle of the Rays' future was really no clearer" after Sternberg's press conference yesterday. There were "so many unanswered questions." Auman: "Would the team keep its current name? Would it have two names? Where exactly would playoff games be played between the two homes?" The "unusual dual existence between two different countries" could also "hurt the team's chances to land free agents." Auman: "Would baseball and its players union approve such a dual model when it could just find a way to move the team to a single market that could better support it year round?" The team "paints the vision as a 'sister city' model, but does either Tampa Bay or Montreal really want 'a deep and powerful connection' with the other?" (THEATHLETIC.com, 6/25).