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Sports News | What’s next for the Rays after MLB scrapped Montreal’s ‘sister towns’ plan?

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The proposed off-the-shelf franchise plan championed by the Rays – to split their seasons between Montreal and Tampa, after new baseball diamonds/multipurpose facilities were built in both locations – has been crushed by Major League Baseball, more two years after it was originally greenlit, and despite comments from Rays owners that they were very happy with the progress of the project.

It’s a development that has been, in the words of principal owner Stewart Sternberg, “all the way”. If he knew the specifics of why the plan was scrapped by MLB’s powers that be, he didn’t say so during his Thursday afternoon Zoom press conference.

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And so Sternberg and his Rays are back in a familiar position. They need/want a new stadium in a new location – preferably, they’ve said many times, in the greater Tampa Bay area – because the current situation at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg isn’t enough . It’s hard to imagine a more inconvenient location for most of the region’s population, and they don’t have any real viable options on the table at the moment.

But here’s something different this time. Do you remember when the club got their first real push for a new stadium? It was around 2007-2008 when manager Joe Maddon was brought in, the club dropped the “Devil” from its name and the team started winning baseball games. A shocking number of games, compared to the franchise’s first decade.

The club has an unbreakable lease with the city of Saint Petersburg which runs until the end of the 2027 season. In 2007, it seems like an eternity. Any sort of proposal or even idea for an idea had to include a way around that lease, which meant compensating the city in some way. Even in 2017, when another push was mounted by the Rays, the lease still had a decade of impact.

Now, however? It’s 2022 and, as crazy as it sounds, 2027 isn’t that far away.

Now the Rays are looking at the 2028 season, dreaming of their potential new stadium — wherever that might be — and thinking, “Oh shit, we gotta move.” For the first time in this eternal stadium drama, the window actually begins to close. Sternberg admitted as much when he said, “We’re going to have to get to work for Opening Day in 2028.”

The process of building a stadium is not just about building the physical facility; that’s the easy part. It is a process that lasts for years. Sternberg then rehashed previous attempts to land a new stadium and concluded with a rather obvious sentiment: “Or just have us have opening day, most likely, in 2028 at a different venue.”

So what are these options? At the basic level, there are two: stay or go.

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Whatever happens between now and the opener of 2028, the Rays will certainly pursue the “stay” option now as they regroup after this setback. Because while 2027 isn’t too far away, it’s not around the corner either. They can’t let slip their intention to exit a market four years later and then hope to garner fan interest (and spending).

This interest has already taken a hit with the idea of ​​towns twinned with Montreal. As you can imagine, fans loyal to the Rays weren’t too happy about losing their team for half the season. And while the roster and the people in the front office changed, the only thing more constant than the winning teams was the noise – heard as complaints, rest assured – about the stadium situation. Rays stadium fatigue is a reality.

“Absolutely it exists, but I can promise and assure you that it will not allow it to affect our approach and the outcome of what happens,” Sternberg said, perhaps convincing someone somewhere? “We always seem to come up with new ideas and new approaches.”

Sternberg was asked why this time could be any different, why it would be possible to have a new stadium built in a prime location when similar efforts have failed for the past 15 years or so.

“What I’ve learned from that process this time is that people are, I think, really more concerned about losing the team in the future than they would have been in the past.” , did he declare. “And I’ve also learned that people believe the region, not wrongly, is doing much, much better financially in many ways than it did three or four years ago.”

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The point is, there are legitimately many reasons to believe that in a new geographic location, the team could appeal much better in a market that continues to grow – the Tampa/St. Pete’s market size is 13th among the 30 teams. And more fans in the seats watching a team that has proven capable of enduring success would mean more companies willing to spend their advertising dollars with the club.

But difficult to escape the low attendance, as legitimate as they are. The Rays ranked 28th out of 30 average attendance teams in 2021, despite winning the AL’s Top 100 games. They were 29th in 2019, 29th in 2018 and 30th – dead last – in each season from 2012 to 2017.

So, yeah, add those numbers to an inability to craft a new ballpark in the last 15 years and it’s understandable the team might be considering options elsewhere.

Ok, but where?

1. Montreal

This seems obvious, for many reasons. The motivation is there. The story is there. The foundation is there. The private and public support, built over the last two and a half years under the Sister Cities plan, is there. And if you build a baseball park that can hold 40 MLB games per season, you build one that can also hold 81 games. No kind of facility would get MLB approval if it doesn’t meet the proper standards.

2. Nashville

If commissioner Rob Manfred and the other owners are looking for a reason to blow up current division formats and realign leagues, the Rays’ move would be the perfect opportunity. However, there’s no evidence or reports that they do, so what makes the most sense is that the Rays — again, if they were to leave Florida — move to a geographic area that allows them to stay in the AL East. So that means Portland and Las Vegas, while not completely ruled out, are not at the top of the list.

Montreal works with that, of course. Nashville too; the flight from Boston to Nashville is about half an hour shorter than that from Boston to Tampa.

3. North Carolina

Yes, Charlotte is the North Carolina city that Manfred mentions whenever he talks about possible expansion cities. But Charlotte has logistical issues that complicate matters. Going up Interstate 85 a bit, however, you have the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle, a metropolitan area that’s just a bit smaller than the Charlotte metropolitan area. It’s bigger, by market size, than Nashville. The team would almost certainly be referred to as the “Carolina Rays” instead of Raleigh Rays or Triangle Rays (sounds very juco-ish, doesn’t it?).

The options are all, shall we say, a little messy and complicated, and time is running out. In the meantime, the Rays continue to win games in front of a largely empty home stadium (average attendance in 2021 was 9,513 fans). It would be nice if this great product played in a crowded stadium.



What’s next for the Rays after MLB scrapped Montreal’s ‘sister towns’ plan?

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