By Jim Bleyer
The attendance-challenged Tampa Bay Rays are exiting the area sooner rather than later.
The team and Major League Baseball make that clear yesterday by announcing they will explore sharing home games with the city of Montreal.
Splitting an 81-game home schedule between two cities 1,300 miles apart will never occur. Tampa, despite fielding a competitive team for the past 12 years, has not built any kind of fan base. The late, not-so-great Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals in 2005 due to low attendance and a dilapidated stadium in Canada.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s airing of such a preposterous proposal is baseball’s last swing in coercing Tampa Bay taxpayers to foot the bill for the Rays’ billionaire owner Stu Sternberg.
Tampa Bay Beat has been predicting for months that the Rays will exit the area with Portland and Las Vegas as plausible landing spots. Other cities mentioned as expansion or relocation possibilities include Nashville, Charlotte, and for some reason Montreal despite its unhappy experiment.
Real estate moguls Darryl Shaw, Jeff Vinik, and Frank Morsani along with their political stooges Les Miller, Ken Hagan, Bob Buckhorn, Kimberly Overman, and Jane Castor would like nothing more to see the fleecing of Hillsborough County taxpayers to bail out a billionaire and give a boost to profiteering landowners near the proposed site.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is having none of the nonsense.
”Ultimately, such a decision is up to me,” he asserted. “And I have no intention of bringing this latest idea to our city council to consider. In fact, I believe this is getting a bit silly.”
The Rays cannot explore playing any Major League Baseball games in Montreal or anywhere else prior to 2028, without reaching a formal memorandum of understanding with the City of St. Petersburg,
The Tampa Bay Times, which sold a significant interest in its flailing operation to investors that include Vinik, Shaw, and Morsani, tilt reporting in favor of its patrons by largely omitting facts that mitigate against corporarte subsidies by government.
Supposedly, playing games early in the season in Florida would preclude the need for a domed stadium, cutting the cost of a new building. But it rains in Florida and a stadium with no roof cannot be multi-use, the major selling point of a taxpayer-supported stadium by influence-peddling public officials.
MLB’s players’ association would have plenty to say about its membership forced to purchase/rent living space in two separate cities. And where would playoff games be played? Not in Tampa if one subscribes to the weather argument.
The Rays, despite a 43-32 record, sport an average attendance of 14,546—second lowest in the majors, ahead of only the Miami Marlins.
The Rays’ opening day payroll of around $65 million was among the lowest in baseball, according to ESPN. Among the difficulty in securing a new stadium, a paucity of local revenue and a poor local-television deal, the Rays have been seen by other cities as a target for relocation, ESPN analysts conclude.
Last month the Rays drew a franchise-worst 5,786 fans. The previous low was 6,509 on Sept. 5, 2017 when a hurricane was forecast.