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.