The Tampa Bay Rays have received permission from Major League Baseball to explore playing some of its home games in Montreal, commissioner Rob Manfred said on Thursday.
Under the proposal, early season games would take place in Florida before the franchise’s home games move to Montreal for the remainder of the season. It has yet to be determined where playoff games would be held. The proposal would also include new stadiums for both cities.
There are still significant hurdles to be overcome that would preclude the plan from being in place until around 2023, according to reports.
Should the plan come to fruition, baseball would return to Montreal after the Expos left for Washington, D.C., in 2005. The return has significant support among power brokers in Montreal, reports say, including with Stephen Bronfman, the private-equity magnate whose father, Charles, was the Expos’ original owner.
A month ago, Stephen Bronfman reached an agreement with a developer on a site in Montreal’s Point-Saint-Charles neighbourhood to potentially build a new stadium.
Commissioner Manfred announced that the executive council has approved the Rays to explore the possibility of a split-season between St. Pete and Montreal. It doesn’t mean a plan would be approved, but the club can explore the possibility.
Meanwhile, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said he was focused on keeping baseball in Tampa Bay.
“My priority remains the same: I am committed to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come,” Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times. “I believe this concept is worthy of serious exploration.”
The Toronto Blue Jays have played a portion of their pre-season games at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium each year since 2014.
In 2003, the Expos played 22 home games in Puerto Rico. The only other instance of two cities sharing a team occurred when Kansas City and Omaha split the NBA’s Kings in the 1970s.
The Rays are open to the two-city solution to save baseball in Tampa Bay after years of lobbying for a new stadium in the area. Tampa Bay has had long-running challenges in building a new stadium to replace Tropicana Field, long considered one of the worst ballparks in the sport. The Rays’ average attendance and opening-day payroll were among the lowest in the MLB despite their 43-31 record.
MLB’s executive council, which includes Sternberg, gave the team permission to explore the solution during owners’ meetings this week.
It is too early to determine the team’s name, according to ESPN sources.