Cue everybody freaking out that the Rays are going to move to Montreal

As covered here on Thursday, the collapse of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ stadium plans in Tampa does not make it more likely that the team will move out of Florida entirely; in fact, team owner Stuart Sternberg had to give up his option to look elsewhere in the bay area for a home, which was set to expire at the end of the month, and now is back under the constraints of the lease that binds him to St. Petersburg through 2027. Sure, he could try to break the lease and move out of state entirely, but 1) he would face a certain court battle, and 2) if he really wanted to do that, he could have done it just as easily years ago.

So, the Rays aren’t moving to Montreal anytime soon. However, the message constantly hammered home by sports team owners is if you don’t build it, we will leave, and despite that being completely untrue most of the time, a lot of people believe it. And a lot of those lot of people are sportswriters, so we get:

  • The Tampa Bay Times’ John Romano, who in the past has been amenable to Sternberg’s claims that he needs public money for a new stadium so he can make more money, says that it only makes sense for Sternberg to refuse to put more money into a Tampa stadium, because this is about dollars and cents. Which, sure, but then so would be the decision on moving the Rays elsewhere, and though Romano writes, “There are cities desperate to be called a Major League town, and they will spend an eye-popping amount of money to make it happen. Portland. Montreal,” those cities have actually shown zero interest in spending eye-popping sums on stadiums, which is one reason why the Expos left Montreal, and why they went to Washington instead of to Portland. So really this comes down to “If nobody wants to build him a stadium, what will Sternberg do?” — but as the answer there can only be “Keep waiting and hope some sucker opens their wallet,” and Romano is trying to make Sternberg out to be a sympathetic businessman and not a three-card monte dealer, that won’t do, so instead we get “a stadium in Tampa is still within reach.” Which is … a good thing? Remotely true? Does it matter anymore, in the world of sports columnism?
  • Then there’s Romano’s fellow Times columnist Martin Fennelly, who goes full wailing and gnashing of teeth to declare “Season’s Greetings from Montreal! Wish you were here!” and “I have not arrived slowly at wrapping my head around no more baseball” and “I want to be wrong. My summers have always been baseball summers, and I don’t want that to end.” (No, Fennelly is not really only 20 years old, but he grew up in New York, then moved to Tampa Bay in 1991 when … there was no baseball team, but maybe he’s just blocked out the entire 1990s because all the lack of local baseball was just so depressing.) And: “I’m not about to tell people how to spend their money, especially on stadium construction, though cities do it all the time. But no complaining if the Rays leave, okay?” If you people insist on not spending taxpayer money on stadiums like normal cities do, it’ll only be your fault if the Rays leave, so don’t come crying to me! I am very glad I am not Martin Fennelly’s teenage kid.
  • Finally, we have CBC News, which reports that the chances of baseball returning to Montreal are “pretty good,” according to the guy who is trying to get baseball to return to Montreal, and who therefore certainly has no reason to overplay how successful he’s being or anything. Seagram’s heir and private equity fund manager Stephen Bronfman says he knows there are “naysayers,” but he is a “glass half full kind of guy,” and is “super excited,” and consultants Convention, Sports, and Leisure did a study that shows Montreal is totally ready to be an MLB market again, and those guys are total professionals, right? Number of naysayers, or even independent analysts, interviewed by the CBC reporter: zero.

Look, Tampa Bay is, it has now been well established, a middling MLB market, but that’s still better than most non-MLB markets, since they are non-MLB markets precisely because they can’t even manage to be middling. All things being equal, would Stuart Sternberg make as much money running a team in Montreal as in Tampa Bay? Maybe! Would he make more? Probably not, all things being equal. Could all things not be equal, like if Montreal throws the kind of money at Sternberg that Tampa Bay is so far refusing to? Conceivably, but that didn’t go so well the last time, and the current Montreal mayor sounds at least somewhat skittish about promising piles of cash — saying “We need to evaluate what kind of participation, how we will collaborate, but so far, so good” and “if it comes to asking Montrealers for money, for example to build a stadium, yes, I will ask Montrealers” — so probably won’t to the degree that this is likely to turn into an international bidding war.

It is absolutely important to remember at all times that sports leagues have a monopoly on franchises, and can use that as leverage — but it’s also important to remember that there are only so many cities with the population (and TV eyeballs) to enable a pro sports team to make fistfuls of money, and cities can use that as leverage, too. Romano is right about one thing: This is a business negotiation, and team owners are just trying to maximize their profits (plus maybe their egos), and will use any advantage they can to do so; but there’s nothing stopping elected officials from doing the same. Right now, the Rays and Tampa/St. Pete are still in the staring-each-other-down phase of negotiations, so there are likely at least a few more summers of baseball left before anybody starts storming off and slamming doors.

All of which is to say: Everybody take a deep breath, okay? I know it’s bad for clicks, but it’s good for making sensible policy decisions, and journalism is still about trying to inform people so they can make the world a better place — or at least that’s what the internet tells me.

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41 comments on “Cue everybody freaking out that the Rays are going to move to Montreal

  1. I am fascinated by the logic of “it’s just cold hard economic facts” argument that absolves any sins of a team owner (the impramatur of capitalism is a very strong one for certain people) but yet basic economic facts are not allowed when trying to point out the little public benefit for stadia. Romano resorts to a “time will tell” shrug when day-dreaming about possible objections to his facility fantasies. Time has told time after time–Romano and many others just are not listening.

    1. It is a pretty funny and common little rhetorical dance. You see it a lot in any argument bordering on economics. “X company is a greedy death machine that only cares about profit and nothing else”.

      But also they really would be way better off if entirely staffed by women and the lack of women on their oil rig crews is surely a sign of discrimination!

      1. I don’t get the gender-centric connection…

        Are you saying that women cannot do trades or industrial jobs? If so, I know several who prove otherwise…

        1. I am suggesting that if their were these huge efficiencies to be made by hiring women, these blood thirsty profit first companies would be utilizing them. Instead jobs mostly seem to be allocated based on experience/education/inclination, and the reason their aren’t a lot of women in heavy industry is women are mostly not interested/suited for that work.

          Women can absolutely do those jobs, but they mostly don’t for a variety of reasons almost none of which are “discrimination”.

          Its just one example, there are lots of other ones.

          1. If you’re suggesting that discrimination can’t exist because corporations are such ruthless utility-maximizing machines, I have several hundred million counterexamples for you.

          2. I am suggesting you can’t have it both ways.

            Profits can’t be “the only thing corporations care about”, and “gee Target only pays female executives 75% of male executives when the women are just as good because Target is sexist”. It is not a consistent point of view.

            Corporations are complex entities with a lot of factors pushing on them, and profit maximization is far from their only value.

            Also it is a lot of steps from “discrimination exists”, to discrimination if why their aren’t more female oil rig workers (or bank executives, or male nail stylists, or whatever).

            As an aside if you really think corporate America had a situation where they could get a 25% discount for equivalent labor, and nearly universally does not due to discrimination, you do have a screw loose.

          3. I dunno, “a situation where they could get a 25% discount for equivalent labor, and nearly universally does not due to discrimination” is exactly how pro sports was run for the first half of the 20th century.

          4. I am not sure I would say there is a comparable level of professionalism and dedication to efficiency in staffing between the HR practices of 1900-1950 sports team front offices and modern Fortune 500 companies.

            Anyway, I don’t think we disagree, and I just meant it is an example. I mostly am just annoyed with the “corporations are evil crowd”, and their switching between “profit is the only motive of these soulless entities and that is terrible”, and then also criticizing a bunch of scenarios where profit isn’t their only motive, but the values don’t match the critics.

            The behavior is a lot more nuanced and various than that.

    2. We only lost our team in Montreal because we had and have the worst stadium in the world. It is out of the way ( like the one in St Pete) and has actually been condemned at times for falling debris like the large piece cement beam which fell off in 1991. Both Football and Soccer plus all concerts have left there as well. We have one of the nicest downtowns in the world and I cannot imagine how we would pack a new stadium. The money and support are here and Florida in General ( look up Marlins) is great for Spring Training but not Pro Baseball as they don’t support teams that have actually won or appeared in the World Series regardless of how they play. Just look up how poorly a good and exciting Rays team did with attendance last year ? Look at the bright side Tampa you are now a great hockey town.

  2. Neil, you need to expand on how journalists are questioning and reporting the baseball project in Montreal. You can’t limit your evaluation/example to A CBC reporter that interview Bronfman.

    There are plenty of very good and neutral journalists that questioned the project, the funding strategy, the level of government that will be involved in such project.

    Here are some of those journalists that need to be considered and quoted:

    – Martin Leclerc from Ici Radio-Canada: Martin is completely against public funding of sports teams/stadiums and he’s producing high quality reports with experts on this topic. He’s one of the best journalist to cover such stories.

    – Philippe Cantin from La Presse+: Philippe is also aware of how sports teams are trying to negotiate with governments and he’s writing thoughtful analysis of the situations between the political and the private sectors to fund a stadium or infrastructures.

    – Jack Todd from The Gazette: Jack is a highly trusted journalist that always challenge the viability of the baseball project in Montreal.

    – Réjean Tremblay from Le Journal de Montréal: Probably the most respected and experienced sports journalist in the Quebec Province, Réjean is well known to be partial/neutral.

    By picking and choosing THE CBC reporter that fit into your message, your doing exactly what you are criticizing. Let’s elevate the debate with the right information. We will all benefit from that.

    1. So the fact that journalists sometimes do their jobs should let those who don’t off the hook?

      1. The CBC link that you posted is a typical article from a behind the scene journalist that collect information from Canadian Press agency and other sources in order to describe the facts of the news that day, not an analysis of the whole topic.

        Such news do not have any intend of covering all point of views and that’s fine with me. The news of the day is what Bronfman and his group said that day.

        By pointing out that such news was released by CBC, you missed all the other news/articles by the best journalists on this specific topic that asked the right questions and try to elevate the debate. Here are some of those article and TV/radio clips.

        Matin Leclerc on 91.9 Sports FM (at 1:07:25)

      2. Single-source journalism is bad. The fact that you’re sitting a desk away from someone doing a better job doesn’t make it any less bad.

        Thanks for the links, though!

        1. Jack Todd covered the Expos for the Gazette for years, fwiw. There are many archived articles of his on the Labatt park project out in the ether/subether.

  3. I think its a bit generous to call Tampa Bay a middling baseball market. Its actually quite awful. They don’t draw even when the team does well. Out of 27 MLB markets, you’d be hard pressed to rank Tampa anything higher than 26th. They were still towards the bottom of attendance even when they were making the playoffs 4 out of 6 years. If Montreal had had a stretch like that they would have drawn well.

    1. It’s a decent TV market. And not much worse than a lot of other established MLB markets in attendance (Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami).

      Montreal and Tampa Bay have in common that they both punch below their demographic weight in terms of attendance. Either fits pretty well into the bottom tier of MLB.

      1. Neil, the key factors in favor of Montreal for attendances are the density, mass transit and the whole country as potential TV market.

        1. 3,889.8/km2 (10,075/sq mi) for the city of Montreal (island) and 2,719.9/km2 (7,045/sq mi) for the urban city.

        Tampa numbers are 3,325.47/sq mi (1,283.97/km2) and St. Pete numbers are 4,226.57/sq mi (1,631.90/km2).

        Between 2x and 3x higher in Montreal than ins Tampa Bay.

        2. Considering the density, it’s all a matter of facilitating fans transportation between their offices/home and the stadium.

        On this topic, with the existing metro stations (and the new ones on the blue line), the train stations and the integration of REM electric light train lines ($6B+ CAD for phase 1, project under construction and delivered between 2021 and 2023), Montreal will be able to draw way more fans to the new stadium to be announced (Peel Basin in Goose Village) than what it was able to draw back in the 90’s at the Big O. So comparison must consider this new landscape.

        3. Regarding eyeballs, the Expos fan base is huge. Expos gears are #3 top sellers for the entire MLB teams (if I’m not mistaken). But more than that, Expos fans are spread not only across the province of Quebec but also in the maritimes, on the west coast of Canada, in the southern part of Ontario. So the TV market for Montreal is not 4M people (greater Montreal Area), it’s probably 15M-20M canadians including the population of Quebec.

        Bell Media (TSN 1-2-3-4-5 and RDS 1-2-Info) is ready to pay a huge amount for the TV rights of the Montreal Expos considering they lost the NHL TV rights a while ago and desperately need prime sport content.

        So when comparing Tampa Bay market to Montreal, raw numbers are one thing but the whole TV competitive market as well as massive mass transit investments need to be considered which is never the case.

        Finally, the stadium that will be announced in a couple of months by Bronfman and his group won’t be a stadium on a land. It will be a complete neighborhood in Goose Village, $2B-$3B CAD project with a stadium, a REM station, a baseball academy attached to it, parks and schools with houses, condos, stores, …

        Just as one example, Goose Village will need massive investment for land decontamination so that’s why I think help from the city of Montreal and potential investments demands to the Quebec government will be required to build that massive neighborhood that will change the landscape of the South of Montreal.

        Stay Tuned!

        1. Do you have any direct info on what Bell is willing to pay for Montreal MLB rights?

          Rogers folds it’s rights payments into internal budgets, but company reps have indicated that when all is said and done they notionally “pay” somewhere around $350k per game for Jays rights. Assuming all 162 games are covered, that’s about C$56m or $43m USD.

          That is in the same region as the worst of the US regional tv deals for MLB clubs.

          Montreal does not have “all” of Canada as a market. In fact, many believe that as part of the Expos relocation to Washington in 2004, the Jays acquired all non-Quebec MLB territories exclusively (I have not seen any documentation on this so can’t vouch for it’s veracity).

          Even if “Canada” remains shared territory for both Toronto and Montreal teams, though, what they are really fighting for is the 13m potential Canadian viewers who do not live in either Ontario or Quebec (total pop 22.5m).

          That’s a healthy number of potential viewers, but it’s not “all of Canada”.

          1. Regarding Bell Media budget for Expos TV rights, I don’t have any insider info on such pricing.

            Regarding the existing Blue Jays TV ratings, in 2017, the Jays averaged 706,300 viewers on Sportsnet compared to 895,400 over the same time period last season (in 2016).

            What we do know is that the Montreal Canadiens receive from Bell Media (RDS in french only) ~$60M CAD/year for local TV rights (for only 60 games). The remaining 22 games (Saturdays night games) are under the Sportsnet/TVA Sports national contract so I assume at least another $1M CAD per game.

            So that’s what a highly visibility/popular hockey team is getting for the Quebec market (in french only)

            My guess is that the Expos will get at least what the Blue Jays are getting because the TV ratings for the Expos should be at least equal to what the Jays are getting right now. Lots of fans from Quebec will stop watching the Jays once the Expos are back, do a drop of 100K to 200k viewers per game.

            If I remember well, RDS alone (french sport channel for the province of Quebec) got a TV rating of ~800K for the famous Blue Jays vs Royals series games few years ago. That’s a huge number for a team from Toronto on a french network in Quebec.

            Regarding the market size in Canada for the Expos, with TSN/RDS broadcasting the games from coast to coast (population of 36.7M), I guess that almost half of the population of Canada (8.4M in Quebec plus another 7M-8M in the maritimes, southern Ontario and western Canada) could be targeted because not all Canadians are Toronto’s fans. You would be surprised to see in the NHL how many Habs fans are from Calgary, Edmonton, …

            Thats’s why I think the TV rights will be at least as important as what the Jays are getting, even more because the French sport channel (RDS) will probably pay more for such content than what Sportsnet is paying for the Jays TV rights. On the other hand, probably the Jays will loose some TV rights from TVA Sports if the Expos are back.

            That’s my guess at this stage considering the TV sports landscape in Montreal/Quebec and in Canada.

        2. I’m not really believing that Expos gear is #3 in MLB sales, unless the competition is the Providence Steam Roller and the Toledo Mud Hens of yore.

          Montreal is a great city. Not liking baseball doesn’t make a city bad, but it doesn’t seem like much has changed since the last team left. At least unlike most Florida articles, this series doesn’t cite “ethnics” as proof of baseball demand.

          1. The Steamroller never should have left Mannheim, but cities build new symphony halls and teams jump. What’s new age fan to do?

          2. GDub:

            As the owner of some recently purchased Expos gear (licensee? Not sure what level of control MLB exercises over merch vis game dvd’s etc… ownership and rights are not the same, as a used car salesman once said…) I can guarantee that the Expos are not #3 in MLB merch sales.

            They might be #3 for MLB Merch in Canada, and I would certainly believe they are #3 for MLB merch in Quebec. No way are the #3 across the board.

            Pat: Making assumptions for MLB rights based on NHL rights for the Canadiens in the same market is ludicrous. Would you say that the NY professional Rugby team could expect a cable deal at or near the Yankees or Mets deal? Of course not.

            There’s no way the Expos II get $1m per game. It’s very unlikely that the broadcasters would pay even what the Jays are getting (and as another poster noted, for several years prior to their departure, the Expos did not have TV deals of any consequence and did not have ANY english radio presence).

            Ontario’s 2018 population estimate is a little over 14m. Quebec’s is about 8.5m (last census, 2016).

            Think about it.

            BTW, Bell currently pays about $500k per game for CFL rights – a league they have exclusive rights to for reg season (81 games) and playoffs (5). And in Canada, CFL ratings are much higher than MLB ratings (Jays or general) are.

            Every metric it is possible to reasonably analyze for this market suggests that Expos broadcast rights (both English and French language) should land in the C$45-50m range.

          3. I am the owner of two complete sets of Youppi! action figures, so I am doing my part to try to get the Expos to #3.

          4. … when one person has two complete sets of Youppi! merchandise, that means somewhere someone is going without any sets of Youppi! merchandise…

            Just sayin.

        3. ” It will be a complete neighborhood in Goose Village, $2B-$3B CAD project with a stadium, a REM station, a baseball academy attached to it, parks and schools with houses, condos, stores,”……………AND finally a 2 billion $$$ baseball stadium…LOL. No need to stay tuned for something that is a pie in the sky dream. Lol.

          1. John, I never said Expos will have $1M per game (read my comments again). I just said that based on the fact that Habs are having a $1M/game TV rights in the same market, Expos should have the same TV that the Jays have, maybe more.

            Based on your estimate ($350k per game), I think it should be the same, maybe a little bit more.

      2. Unlike a lot of people, I actually live in St. Pete. The Trop is just down 16th street from me.

        The Trop is a perfectly fine and comfortable place to watch a game. It is air conditioned and the sodas are cold. I go to five or six games a year. And watch the rest on TV.

        What it is not is a money generating machine for the fat cats. So screw the fat cats. If Stu wants a new stadium, then he can build it. If he wants to take his team away, he can in 2028.

        1. Good points, Terry.

          The question I have – similar to the Bills prospective new stadium – is in that market, would a new stadium with all the allegedly necessary amenities actually change that?

          Some markets have untapped potential. Others are doing what they can.

          In both Tampa and Buffalo cases, I’m not sure plunking down a new Las Vegas/Atlanta style palace actually changes things all that much.


          1. Good questions. Here is how it is here in St Pete.

            Downtown is popping every night. We have beaches as far as the eye can see in 3 directions.

            Me and my family are good for 5-6 games. Each game costs us about $150. So that is $750-900 in revenue from us each year. As it turns out, that equals my total interest in spending on Baseball period. If the Rays are gone, we will find other things to do, including possibly baseball related things.

            I think most of us feel that way too. The Trop is nice enough. And the city is finding out, that it might be better to not have the Trop there so they can expand downtown farther west.

            Which means for the Rays, if they want to stay here then they need to find their own place. Now if they sign a 99 year lease, or cut the city in on the profits, then I might feel differently. But for now, I have as much interest in paying for a new stadium as Stu Sternberg does.

      3. I wouldn’t consider Pittsburgh, Cleveland, or Miami good baseball markets either. Miami has shown they don’t support the Marlins. I lived in Cleveland for many years and the team didn’t draw after the 02 season, when the last of the 90’s guys left.

        1. They’re not good baseball markets compared to New York or Los Angeles (or even, I dunno, Denver). They are good baseball markets compared to Nashville or Buffalo or playing in a parking lot by the side of the road, which are the next best options, at least until such time as MLB tells the Mets and Yankees owners, “Shove over, you’re in a metro area of 20 million people, do you even know how many soccer teams London has?”

          1. Remember when Buffalo was a legit contender when Denver and Miami came in? That would have been a disaster. However, the problem with Buffalo is that its a shrinking market. The problem with Florida is even though its a growing market in terms of people they don’t like MLB enough to pay to go to games (I wonder if part of that is because Florida baseball fans can get their baseball fix for $5 during spring training).

            But I do like the idea of the of the Yankees and Mets being told to share the market. Its been joked about over the years.

  4. Please for the sake of god READ the article, and links (supplied by the author), before commenting.

    Secondly, the Blue Jays own the Canadian rights to MLB except for some “shared” markets like BC with Seattle.

    1. If the MLB approved the Montreal franchise (expansion or relocation), they will also approve that this franchise will have MLB broadcast rights for their games in Canada. Otherwise, it does not make sense to have a team without TV rights.

      The question is how those rights will be negotiated between the two markets especially if TSN/RDS are the official broadcasting channels with coast to coast coverage.

      1. MLB *could* do that. It almost certainly won’t, though, as it would cause every other owner to freak out that their TV territorial monopolies could be summarily taken away as well. Do you remember the king’s ransom the Nationals owners had to pay to the Orioles just to broadcast their games in D.C.?

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