Canadian government rules out federal funding for Montreal baseball stadium

I don’t know if there’s anyone out there who was waiting on the Canadian federal government to step in and build a new baseball stadium to bring back the Montreal Expos, but if so, you can stop now:

In an interview with La Presse, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi said helping finance new arenas or stadiums for professional sports teams does not top the list of infrastructure needs. He said that any type of application for funding wouldn’t be accepted.

This isn’t real surprising — Canada’s federal government hasn’t funded many stadium projects — but with Quebec’s provincial government also expressing no interest in funding a ballpark, it’s going to leave boosters of Montreal baseball having to figure out how to build a stadium with private funds plus whatever it can shake loose from the city. That’s not necessarily impossible — if you cut out the bells and whistles and build something for $400 million or so, it just might be possible to turn the $25 million a year in profit needed to pay it off, especially with the revenue-sharing breaks offered by MLB for new stadiums. Still, when the Expos themselves tried it in the 1990s, it failed for lack of funding.

All this is assuming, of course, that anyone would want to plunk down $1 billion or so for an MLB franchise (existing or expansion) to play in Montreal, which has a large population and a strong baseball tradition but not exactly a long history of attendance success — and then dedicate any future profits to paying off a stadium. Of course, MLB franchises wouldn’t go for $1 billion if they weren’t so heavily subsidized via stadium deals in other cities … it’s tough to be Canada, is what I’m saying.

23 comments on “Canadian government rules out federal funding for Montreal baseball stadium

  1. What you didn’t get in not reading the actual French report is that the federal government will pay for infrastructure and those projects that have a social benefit to everyone – so the likes of transport link, roads and public spaces around the stadium will be funded. That leaves the actual stadium itself to be privately funded or, with some municipal help. Other areas that may not cost the federal government any of their infrastructure dollars but would help the developers is the land and taxes to be subsidised.

    As for your snotty comments about who’d plunk down a $1bn for a team for Montreal? Well, no one is buying a team for a $1bn today – the cost for a team itself will be in the $500-600 Mn range. The stadium costs will be on top of that. And yes, there investors in Montreal who have that kind of dough for a team.


    And keep in mind that Forbes has historically undervalued MLB franchises, if anything.

    I’d love for Montreal to get a new team, as it’s one of my favorite cities. But it’s going to take a lot of money, not to mention a team becoming available, and I don’t see either happening in the immediate future.

  3. Thanks Neil – Forbes valuation aside, the team will sell for what the owners think is a fair price – over or under what Forbes says…

    As far as any possible teams being available right now? You are right, nothing in the immediate future. The Rays and A’s are possible candidates. But, expansion is the most likely route for Montreal if MLB can secure another city… Having said that, there will be no expansion until the Rays situation in Tampa is addressed. So for right now, the focus is on figuring out what the Rays are going to do.

  4. Unfortunately, for Montreal, they won’t be getting an MLB team anytime soon. Sometimes life just isn’t fair and not matter how much you wan’t something, it just doesn’t transpire.

  5. Well, the Bell Centre was built using private funds, and I highly doubt any investor was expecting either the Federal or Provincial governments to kick in any subsidies. Nah, the Montreal Baseball Project and their team of potential owners will continue their work, not bothered by this in the least, and in 5 to 8 years we can all enjoy a regular visit to Montreal.

  6. I don’t think ‘fairness’ enters into the price calculation at all though, Tom.

    Count me among those who would be very happy to see the Expos return (lost in the discussion of truly disgraceful attendance at Expos games is the role underfunded and appalling ownership played, including occasionally refusing to allow games to be aired on TV or radio…). But it will take a staggering amount of money to make it happen.

    There are people in Montreal who could write a check (more or less) for that kind of money as you noted. However, that doesn’t mean they will. It’s also worth mentioning that even a USD$600m expansion fee (which IMO is very low…) will cost C$830m as of this morning.

    It is a lot tougher to imagine one of the rich guys you mentioned spending C$1.5-2Bn for a franchise, stadium and other costs when they will be earning $0.72 dollars from tickets and Canadian TV revenue.

    My guess would be that is why all the “Montreal” talk has subsided somewhat in the last 6-8 months. Many people believe it is the best baseball market presently without a franchise. But wishes aren’t horses… and there are significant financial obstacles to bringing the game back.

  7. “Take your stinking paws off the A’s, you damn dirty French-Canadians!” – Charlton Heston

    Hmm, maybe I’m remembering that quote wrong…

  8. I’m not from Montreal, so I’m asking this out of ignorance. I know there’s history with baseball in Montreal, even before the Expos. But what’s the environment like in Montreal for basketball? Why not seek an NBA expansion team instead of a MLB expansion team. MLB has said they are not expanding, especially when they realigned to the current 5-team divisions, 15-team leagues. And there are no other cities besides Montreal chomping at the bit for baseball. NBA, on the other hand, has Seattle trying to get back into the league. Seattle needs a 2nd city to make it compelling for the NBA to expand. Las Vegas, Kansas City, St. Louis, Louisville, etc, are not compelling enough. Now, if Montreal gets into the act, then the NBA might be enticed. The Bell Centre is already available. No need to sink money in a new stadium. There will be a natural rivalry with the Raptors and Celtics. So why not go after NBA expansion instead of MLB?

  9. I can’t imagine any team would sell for less than the $800 million Moores got in 2012 for my lowly dysfunctional Padres.

    Padres Sale For $800 Millon Approved By MLB Owners

    Montreal is a great city but it’s not a MLB city. Is there a french Ballmer up there that I don’t know about?

  10. @Samuel

    I’m not from Montreal either, so I can’t talk about their appetite for basketball, but they seem to be interested in getting the Expos back. Tickets for March’s exhibition have sold well, and one would assume they will be near the 90,000 they’ve had in the past two years. Still lots of work to do, but progress is progress. Plus, since taking office, Rob Manfred has been very open about growing the game, specifically through expansion, if done right. Basically a 180 from Selig’s view on it. That way, they can eliminate the 15 team league, every day inter-league garbage. Still need to do something with Oakland and Tampa Bay though.

  11. There will be a team in Mexico before baseball ever returns to Montreal. Hell in 25 years no one in Montreal will know there was a team in first place. Blame a little thing called demographics.

  12. @Samuel…..Montreal couldn’t support an NBA team full-time. The market looks nice on paper but if Toronto has a hard time being attractive to free agents, then Montreal will not fair better. Visiting Quebec and living there are 2 very different beasts. Montreal has also always been known as a bit of an event town. Outside of the Canadiens, it’s difficult for other teams to draw if they are not performing. The Alouettes CFL team had something like 4 years of straight sell-outs (granted it was only 20,000) but now cant draw flies. The MLS team is drawing, because they are winning. Once they start to lose, attendance will drop. Also, of course, there are the expos….

    The ideal NBA owner for Montreal would have to be Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, and I don’t believe he is anything close to a basketball fan.

  13. If I had to guess, I’d say Vancouver will get MLB before Montreal does. From my limited experience, Montreal seems like it’s trying to be more European, less North American, while Vancouver loves to have rivalries with Seattle. Vancouver just seems like a more natural fit.

    When I visited Vancouver a couple years ago, there seemed to be more interest in the Seahawks than the Canucks. So Vancouver sports fans follow Seattle teams when there isn’t a rival for that team in Vancouver. I’d be interested to know how many Vancouver residents make it to Seattle for Mariners games.

  14. Jaycee/Samuel:

    When George Gillett owned the Canadiens he had his people research both a second NHL team and an NBA team as possible business opportunities.

    As I recall, he said he thought either one could work. Of course, ultimately he chose to pursue neither (though that may have had more to do with the economic situation in 2008/9, which hit his non-sports businesses quite hard).

    I would not rule out Montreal being “interested” in an NBA team at all. While those who say it likes to consider itself more of a European city than North American are partially correct, basketball is second only to football (soccer) as an international professional sport… something we wouldn’t really know from watching the NBA.

    That said, NBA expansion doesn’t seem to be imminent, and any prospective NBA franchise owner in Montreal would have the same problem as the MLB owner would… the currency imbalance (at present) and the staggering expansion fee. Is it likely that the NBA would sell an expansion fee for less than the $700-900m USD that MLB would want? I wouldn’t think so… they will charge whatever they think they can get from any applicant.

  15. “… basketball is second only to football (soccer) as an international professional sport… something we wouldn’t really know from watching the NBA.”

    Well, at the beginning of the current season every team had at least one player from outside the US. Overall, 100 players from 37 countries. The “international influence” has been pretty noticeable for many years.

  16. @MIKE M, I think there are some fans in BC who follow the M’S, but even before last season the Jays have always had a strong following in Vancouver. Whenever they come down here to play the M’s, all the hotels are booked and I-5 jammed with BC or Alberta license plates.

  17. Talk about the attendance issues in Montreal isn’t entirely factual; the truth is, the Expos outdrew a few other MLB teams for most of their existence — including another team in a city that starts with an M that was never considered for contraction because their owner was the de facto “commissioner” until he was required to sell the team to keep his position. It was only after 1994, when the Expos were the best team in baseball until the strike killed the season, that attendance slowed. A weak Canadian dollar, the Big Owe, and the worst owner in professional sports killed the team. Think about it; you’ve just spent the last seven months or so indoors, avoiding a brutal, Canadian winter; the last place you want to go in the summer is a dank, grey tomb like Olympic Stadium.

    Montreal would have to have a couple things to succeed in MLB; a knowledgeable owner with deep pockets, a competitive team, and a stadium with a retractable roof to enjoy summer nights at the ballpark (and not get frostbite when the team gets to the playoffs).

  18. Has anyone ever built a retractable-roof stadium without a ton of public subsidies? Those suckers are expensive without really doing much for revenues.