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As Rays Sister City Concept Between Tampa Bay And Montreal Gains Traction, Key Questions Remain Unanswered

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at November 19, 2021

For two years now, the Tampa Bay Rays have talked about a sister city concept that would see the team play half its homes games in Montreal. According to Tampa Bay Times reporter John Romano, the joint custody arrangement is gaining traction.

“The direction this is heading does suggest the shared city plan is not some street-corner hustle,” writes Romano. “As skeptical as I was about the plan two years ago, I’ve come to believe in ownership’s sincerity.”

Yes, some people believe that this proposed joint custody proposal is a genuine attempt to save baseball in Tampa Bay. Without it, the team will leave. This perception is fair.

And yes, other people are skeptical. This has never been done before and presents a bunch of messy challenges, including issues related to ownership stake, union approval, owner approval and stadium construction. For many, the sister city concept represents nothing more than a transparent and calculated attempt by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to gain leverage with a view to having the city pay for a new, full-time stadium.

Why are many skeptical of Sternberg’s intentions? And why has the Montreal group failed to gain strong public support for the proposal despite a genuine attempt to land the Rays?

Ultimately, there are two fundamental questions that have not been answered, or at least adequately addressed. If all involved want public support for the proposal, the following two key questions must be addressed.

1. Why is the Montreal group waiting seven years for half a team when it could get a full team in seven years by way of expansion?

Sternberg has indicated that the Rays would begin to share home games with Montreal only in 2028 when its Use Agreement (or, loosely put, its lease agreement) expires. This now-infamous agreement provides for significant financial penalties if the Rays leave town before the agreement expires in 2027. Those penalties kick in even if the team only partially relocates. (Yes, the agreement is that specific; well done, lawyers.) From a legal standpoint, those monetary damages drop the closer the Rays get to 2027, which might make an earlier exit more palatable for ownership (I’ve written extensively about the Rays’ Use Agreement).

The bottom line is that Sternberg has expressed his intention to partially relocate the Rays in 2028 and not before.

We also know that MLB wants to expand by two teams, presumably when both the Oakland and Tampa Bay situations are resolved.

So this raises the question: Why would the Montreal group wait seven years for half a team when they could get an entire team at the same time (if not earlier) by way of expansion?

While acquiring a full team along the same timeline would seemingly be the better option, it’s apparently not for the Montreal group.

And why is that? Logically, it’s for one of two reasons: Either the Montreal group doesn’t want to pay the expansion fee, or they have been told by MLB that it’s unlikely they will get an expansion team. The latter reason seems more likely since the Montreal group has deep pockets. So this may explain the group’s strategy. Indeed, if Montreal won’t be getting an expansion team, its pursuit of half the Rays makes perfect sense. Half of something is better than nothing.

This question has not been addressed to date by the Montreal group. If they want strong public support for the sister city concept, this question should be addressed head on.

2. Why would Sternberg move half the team in 2028 when he could move the entire team in 2028 to another U.S. city and instantly enjoy a substantial increase in his franchise valuation?

Sternberg has declared he’s proposing the joint custody arrangement to save baseball in Tampa. While the sentiment is admirable, it also seems a tad too altruistic. So while Sternberg has answered this question, skepticism remains.

Typically, owners seek to maximize their return on a team. Stan Kroenke doubled his franchise valuation by moving the Rams to Los Angeles. And that doesn’t even account for the other meaningful financial opportunities unique to Los Angeles. This, however, is apparently not a priority for Sternberg. Rather, he’s opting for a pretty messy arrangement while also failing to maximize his return on investment, all for the good of the city.

Rather than declaring in broad terms his loyalty to the city, a detailed response to this question would go a long way to gaining support for the proposal in Tampa Bay.

There is little doubt Montreal’s pursuit of the Rays is genuine. Still, it would be helpful for the local group to clarify the context surrounding its unprecedented pursuit of the Rays.

As for the Rays, its part-time pursuit of Montreal is harder to understand since it doesn’t represent the most financially sound long-term option for the Rays. Indeed, Sternberg’s better financial move would be to move his team to another U.S. city in 2028 rather than opt for an unnecessarily complicated sister city arrangement. More than just bare declarations of loyalty are needed here to convince the unconvinced.


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