The Rays’ plan of splitting home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal led to quite a bit of debate and controversy since the club first floated the concept in 2019, though after the Rays asked the league for formal approval of the plan in November, the MLB Executive Council officially rejected the two-city proposal yesterday.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said the team’s immediate next step is to again revisit the idea of a new ballpark in the Tampa Bay area, even though multiple attempts at such a project have fallen short over the years. Tampa mayor Jane Castor recently said that her office would be open to any idea that would keep the Rays in town, yet while the city would also be willing to explore alternate ways of funding a ballpark, Castor drew the line at using taxpayer funds, saying “the community’s appetite to pay for a stadium has left the train station.”
In short, it looks like the Rays may essentially be back at square one, given how Sternburg stressed that his organization had been so fully committed to the Tampa/Montreal plan. In fact, Sternburg is still a believer in the two-city idea for not just the Rays, but for teams in both Major League Baseball and beyond, stating that “Partial seasons are going to be the wave of the future in professional sports.”
It isn’t yet known why the Executive Council vetoed the Rays’ idea, though the simple answer could be that there were too many logistical hurdles to make such a two-city concept work. However, just to be purely speculative, it is possible that the league took issue with splitting games between Tampa and Montreal specifically, rather than necessarily vetoing a two-city concept entirely. With more and more cities increasingly reluctant to commit much or any taxpayer dollars towards building new stadium projects, categorically ruling out a “sister city” plan or other creative ideas wouldn’t be logical for MLB, as the league obviously wants all of its teams in revenue-generating ballpark situations.
Maybe the Executive Council could’ve taken a different view of the plan if the Rays had pitched sharing Tampa and a more nearby city like Orlando, rather than a city 1500 miles away and in a different country. In the bigger picture, the Council might also have balked at one team covering two distinct markets, especially since Montreal has often been mentioned as a possible landing spot for an expansion team, or for any other existing teams who might eventually look to switch cities.
In any event, the only option that seems certain is that the Rays don’t see Tropicana Field as a long-term option. The team’s lease at the stadium expires following the 2027 season, and unless the Rays sign a one- or two-year extension to give Tampa or St. Petersburg more time to finish a new ballpark, there is virtually no chance the Rays will still be calling the much-maligned Trop home come Opening Day 2028.
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