Rays execs say Montreal-Florida plan came from “ether,” is wave of future, we’re all gonna be rich!

Owner-mouthpiece sportswriters like the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin can be useful not because they do any actual reporting — they try to avoid that wherever possible — but because when they turn over their columns to self-serving statements by team officials, all kinds of amusing stuff can come out. And that is most certainly the case for Topkin’s inside-Rays-execs’-minds look at the team’s announced plans to move to two new stadiums in Tampa Bay and Montreal by 2024, which is totally neither crazy nor a cynical attempt to appear crazy, and about which we now learn:

  • Rays owner Stuart Sternberg claims not to remember who came up with the split-city plan, saying it has “no authorship” and “was just sort of there in the ether.’’ (Topkin does not address whether this is indeed amnesia or just plausible deniability.)
  • Team officials say all the kids will soon be doing it, with team president Brian Auld asserting, “We like to be first.”
  • Sternberg acknowledged that the idea seems “cockamamie,” which despite Noah Pransky’s claims to authorship was actually first suggested by FoS reader Andrew Ross. (Also, did you know that “cockamamie” comes from the same root as “decal,” after being filtered through the mouths of mid-20th-century New York youth? Now you do!)
  • Playing in two cities will enable the Rays to spend more money on players because they’ll have more revenue, somehow! “If this comes to fruition, we’re going to have more resources, and more resources means a higher payroll, and a higher payroll is good for all players within baseball,’’ team president Matt Silverman told Topkin, not in the least trying to lobby a players’ union that might otherwise scream bloody murder at 25 of its members having to live in two different countries every baseball season.
  • Sternberg insists he likes this plan even better than the one for a single new stadium in Tampa, telling the Times editorial board that if given the choice between the two, he’d pick “slam dunk, what we’re doing today.’’
  • Team execs think that since Tampa Bay fans don’t go to many games anyway but mostly just read about them on their phones or whatever the kids today do, they can go to just as many if the team is only around half the time, because that’s absolutely how consumer spending works.
  • Sternberg insists “our TV ratings aren’t that great” in Tampa Bay, which is sort of true, but they’re not that bad either.
  • These are words that Sternberg actually said, presumably in an attempt to convey some meaning: “This isn’t us just leaning on Major League Baseball, like the bogeyman, ‘Mommy says I can’t sleep over’ kind of thing. They are large partners, they are large contributors to putting our team on the field every game, every year. They are going to weigh in, whether we like it or not.’’

Anyway. The Rays’ use agreement on Tropicana Field still says they can’t go anywhere before 2028 without the permission of the city of St. Petersburg, and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman has made clear he has no intention of approving this cockamamie scheme before then, certainly not if it involves any public money from his city, which if it doesn’t then Sternberg could have just built his own stadium in Tampa already and been done with it. The wall-of-execs push for a Tampontreal solution, and commissioning Topkin to amplify it, is clearly meant to convince the sports world that they’re serious about this plan; whether they actually are or just want people to think they are remains an open question, but you know which one I’d put my money on.


39 comments on “Rays execs say Montreal-Florida plan came from “ether,” is wave of future, we’re all gonna be rich!

  1. In other arena news

    Coyotes execs make pitch for NHL’s outdoor game at Sun Devil Stadium

    The process of deciding where an outdoor game is played can take over a year, said Steve Mayer, the NHL’s executive vice president of events and content.

    “In terms of the process, we explore over the course of the year numerous venues and opportunities and check out the viability to do an outdoor game [there],” Mayer said. “We look at proper venues, time of the year, weather. Arizona is extremely warm and that is something we would have to take into account.”

    www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/news/2019/07/01/coyotes-execs-make-pitch-for-nhls-outdoor-game-at.html

  2. Neil I would like to commend you on the Theory of a Deadman article. Your command of American history and the english language is impeccable.I hope you write articles on MLB’s role in this scheme. I don’t think it is just Sternberg. I think they are interested to find out if the Portland and Montreal markets are contenders or pretenders. If it is actually something that is feasible, time is not on their side. By 2030 or so, MLB will be a diminished product in which neither an investment group nor a government entity will be willing to shill out $1 billion for a stadium and another billion for a franchise. I think MLB with Sternberg as a proxy is stating either get me a new stadium soon or you need work with me on other plans especially since we are talking about land you want. Either we deal with it or I’m willing to create headlines making us all look silly over the next 10 years.

  3. Thank you for the info about the etymology of cockamamie, Neil. That was fascinating.

    I still like the Rays’ plan. It would essentially be Montreal’s team, except the first 20-25 home games would be in a beefed up minor league ballpark in a warm weather city.

    To me, the Rays’ plan solves Montreal’s two biggest MLB problems: small market and cold weather in the spring.

    • And that stadium thingy……New stadium, over a billion, to play in less than the majority of a season…Plus lot’s of other problems.

      • Baseball stadiums don’t cost a billion unless you want them to cost a billion.

        Actual construction cost of the two year-old Braves stadium was under $450M. Maybe even less. I forget the exact breakdown of the $643M.

        • Seems like it would be easier to solve if they just cut a deal with St. Pete to move to Canada.

    • Small market? Not really. Montreal’s bigger than 12 other MLB markets. (Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Diego, Tampa Bay, Denver, St. Louis, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Milwaukee)
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_North_American_metropolitan_areas_by_population

      • Yep. Whether there are more than 15,000 fans who will turn out in either city is a matter for discussion (and maybe future determination, depending on where the ExRays end up), but Montreal is certainly not a small market by MLB avg standards.

        It is smaller than NY, Los Angeles and Chicago, certainly… but it is mid pack as overall MLB markets go. And you can sell broadcast rights in two languages, just like in several US markets.

        • Tampa Bay is mid-pack, though, too, by number of eyeballs: 11th overall in Nielsen households.

          https://mediatracks.com/resources/nielsen-dma-rankings-2019/

          • Absolutely. In pretty much every way that matters, this is trading in your Blue 1987 Buick Regal for a Sliver 1987 Buick Regal (albeit one in which you have to pay Canadian prices for gas).

            The alleged benefits of moving to Montreal only exist if the team moves there full time and goes into a modern small ballpark built in a multiuse development (which is what Bronfman says they will do and I’ve no reason to doubt him).

            Trouble is, I’m not convinced they would do better than a team in Tampa in the same small park in a multiuse development would do.

            Unless Sternberg believes this gambit will somehow fool the same politicians who imposed the “discussion” considerations in the lease (and also included a 50/50 share of redevelopment profits, let’s not forget… it wasn’t a complete win for the city), I don’t see how he possibly comes out ahead here.

            It’s the definition of a zero sum game.

      • I think most people agree that if MLB started today it would be unlikely that Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and St. Louis would all have teams. Being larger than the economic dynamos of 1890 isn’t much of a calling card for Montreal.

        • I don’t know, St. Louis is averaging 42,000 a game for a below-.500 team at the moment…seems like a perfectly large enough market to me. Are you saying Charlotte or Portland would be drawing more?

          • The markets MLB is currently in are great markets with broad regional coverage. However, if I’m an MLB commis in 2060 or 2070, I would be very worried about all of the Mid West markets. Thankfully I’ll be in an urn by then

      • And all of those are small market teams. Also, Miami, Arizona, and Oakland are “small-market” teams despite being in larger markets than Montreal. Even Toronto sometimes functions like a small-market team.

  4. Not that it matters but maybe the idea was vetted through the Portland Diamond Project – The Rays and PDP hired many
    of the same people (counsel, architects, etc.) and I can’t think of a city that is better suited for short season (June-Sept) baseball than Portland.

    One the surface the idea is nuts but the math makes you wonder if it could be feasible – Two smaller stadiums with no roof *may* require less of a public subsidy than a retractable roof stadium (or perhaps a lower subsidy per market?), overall attendance would be similar if not better, and media revenues would be much higher. Team employees would hate it but subsidies combined with the fact that they are already carpet baggers for most of the year (spring training, winter ball, etc.) cushion the blow.

    Also the point about pushing Montreal and/or Portland (or Charlotte or others) into the spotlight to see if they are legit has some merit.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this plan is tried out someday.

    • “Two smaller stadiums with no roof *may* require less of a public subsidy than a retractable roof stadium (or perhaps a lower subsidy per market?), overall attendance would be similar if not better, and media revenues would be much higher.”

      I am having a hard time seeing how any of those things could be true. Certainly a roof only adds like $200-300m to a stadium cost, and you’re never going to build a whole additional stadium for that amount of money.

      I guess the best possible case would be that this way you get to sell naming rights, luxury suites, etc., twice. But presumably buyers will pay a lot less for those if they’re only good for half a season. It’s really hard to see how two stadiums make fiscal sense when one doesn’t.

      • What confuses me. The original deal with Hillsboro if I am not mistaken was something required ownership to pony up $500 million or so out of pocket. This deal would involve a dilution of equity (bringing in Brofman), a $600 million stadium in St. Pete (presumably at Al lang) which has the problems as before and its further from Tampa, a $600 million deal for Montreal which even if privately funded would still have to have some public component (dealing with the govt won’t be fun) and this all must be done privately. Solution take the deal from Hillsboro

      • Neil, my first two points are complex and debatable but there is no doubt that they would get substantially more local TV and radio revenue if they could claim two markets instead of one.

        • That depends on 1) what they’d have to rebate to their Florida cable partners for only playing half their games there and 2) what they’d have to pay to the Blue Jays for horning in on their TV territory.

          There could be a net gain, but “no doubt substantially more” seems like a reach to me.

          • RSNs are desperate for live games. There’s no doubt the Expos would be able to get a hefty TV deal from a Tampa RSN, as long as they keep their fingers in the TB market.

        • If it were true that franchises could vacuum up more money by playing games in multiple home cities, the Packers would still be playing 4 games in Milwaukee each year. And, for the Canadian spin, the Bills would still be playing a home game or two in Toronto. Both experiments were ultimately doomed, as was MLB’s last “split home” plan with the Expos in San Juan.

          And… most other major teams would be playing several “home” series at neutral sites throughout the season to boost revenue if such a thing was possible.

          The Yankees don’t play 15 home games in the Midwest each season. The reason they don’t do that is that, although they might take in some “new” revenue from the good folk of Des Moines and Springfield (you pick which one), they will lose more revenue than they gain in doing so and would alienate some fans (probably in both the midwest and NY).

          And even though Tampa and Montreal are certainly not NY, it doesn’t really matter whether you are getting 9900 fans in either city… you are still getting 9900 fans in the seats.

          If you have the team wear different uniforms for each city, you might scoop up a little extra cash in merch (or not, you might just as easily piss off the 9900 fans in each market who don’t like the idea of having 6 different jerseys flogged to them every year instead of 3), but it’s not going to be significant.

          This is a non-starter. The only beneficiary might be the investment bank who provides the financing to two cities desperately trying to bribe an MLB team to stay (if said cities are really, really dumb).

          Say, remind me, who did Sternberg used to work for again?

          • Under the 14 game schedule the Packers played 3 games in Milwaukee (although they usually played in exhibition game there so that does make 4 games).

        • I don’t know if the Rays has Spanish broadcasts but in Montreal there would be English and French broadcast rights to be sold. They should play spring training and home games until June . The first home series of Montreal should always be on 24th.

        • Yeah, I don’t see Sun Sports paying even half of what they do now to broadcast games for half a team. I also don’t see any Quebec outlet, English or French, paying enough for coverage of its half of the team to make up the shortfall. Two halves of a baseball season in separate distant markets are worth less overall than one whole season in one market. Plus there’s the cost of each market’s outlet setting up and staffing broadcast facilities in the other market (or paying the other market’s outlet to carry its coverage during the opposite half of the season, which would also require the Florida outlet to produce a French broadcast and the Quebec outlet to at least produce Spanish SAP audio).

  5. Seems like this would have worked better on a regional basis. i.e. merge the two Florida teams. Like the old Packers Milwaukee/Green Bay schedule split. On the other hand, the KC-Omaha Kings didn’t work out too well for either city.

    • That is what I am thinking. If Sternberg beefs up the Al Lang property to house a minor league team, spring training games, soccer and other events and gets the Marlins to play a few games there (maybe not every year), that could be his golden ticket out of this mess. As I mentioned before I think right now only Portland and Montreal could skate by as potential mlb towns. Other markets are check all the boxes that are wrong Tampa Bay(not enough people within 30 min drive, etc) and they are not as big. Ballparks in Mtl and PDX will be built privately, but if the POLs bark at things like zoning rights, etc MLB will run away from them faster than a speeding bullet. This is your chance folks its not coming again

      • The Marlins?

        You mean that team that just got a new $550m publicly financed stadium (that the same 8200 people that went to the old stadium attend) and are locked in to playing all their home games there long term?

        Sternberg’s “only” golden ticket is to wait until after the 2027 season. Then he can go wherever he likes (with MLB’s blessing, of course).

        What he is trying to do here is weasel out of his lease, reap the redevelopment proceeds AND move his team.

        Contracts matter, as Mr. Sternberg surely knows from his days with Goldman Sachs.

        • If we are to buy the premise that Sports Teams add as much economic value as a super Wal-Mart how does having a zombie team that nobody likes on land that could benefit the taxpayers for 10 years (maybe more, a lot more) help St. Petersburg especially when you’ve got an owner willing to act like a toddler to create negative headlines in the worldwide press. If i were a Tampa bay pol I’d want the land and say at least I got something from crazyman. If your Stu Sternberg you don’t get the windfall until age 70 which means you only have 10-15 years to enjoy it

          • You know Sternberg left GS as a FULL partner, right?

            If Sternberg really wants out, it is likely he can get out within a couple of years if he just surrenders the (percentage of) redevelopment rights he presently holds under contract. What you say about St. Pete benefitting from ‘early’ rather than late development is absolutely true, but it has significantly less merit if they have to give 50% of the revenue to Sternberg.

            I’m not one of the people who believe St. Pete is deliberately holding up development around the Trop just to spite Sternberg, but I do think they would rather adhere to a single master plan for the entire area than do (probably much lower revenue) piecemeal development around the Trop and then fill in when it is gone (assuming it goes and isn’t transformed into a Logan’s Run theme park etc).

            I think they know baseball hasn’t worked in Fla outside of spring training (and you can argue that it doesn’t really work there given the hefty subsidies being commanded by MLB teams for spring training and FS league). I think they know from the Miami debacle that a new stadium won’t change that. The team is winning and the owner, despite his protests, is making money.

            So why not wait him out? As I’ve said before, if he is desperate to leave now (he isn’t) he can surrender his contractual rights to redevelopment and probably be free to go in a year or two (perhaps paying just a relatively modest fee to cover the cost of Trop demolition). As Mr. Sternberg well knows, everything is negotiable.

            Yet he hasn’t done that. Why not?

  6. MLB teams still do need to sell tickets, and contrary to expectations a large percentage of tickets are bought in seasonal plans, especially premium seats.

    It’s hard to believe such a poor team and s going to double its marketing bill by trying to sell plans in two cities, one of which would have a minimal hook for (even a notional) postseason opportunity.

    Same for broadcast rights—again, TV stations don’t just hand over money for charity.

    There’s a lot of Bill Veeck in here. Where’s the birthday cake or the very small outfielder?

    • As someone who lives about 30 miles from the Rays’ current home, I’m pretty sure you could “double it’s marketing bill” and have it still add up to a small fraction of the team’s overall budget.

      The team doesn’t draw and lack of trying is a big part of it. It’ll never happen, but it would be interesting to see what the (infinitely more effective and visible) marketing department of the NHL’s Lightning could do for the Rays.

      But it’s the 21st century way of doing things: why try when you can just whine about it?

  7. As a skeptical non-sports fan, I have to say that the idea of ‘Tampontreal’ is amusing. It reminds me of some guy trying to cheat on his girlfriend by having another girlfriend in a different city —and THAT always works out well, doesn’t it? And I don’t think that the analogy is that stretched, because from sports fans that I’ve known & encountered, there’s a strong emotional attachment to ‘their team’. They kid about it but there down at the stadium shelling out significant wads of cash to watch a team they “don’t care that much about”. So my point is that I find it hard to envision that fans would be able to love a team that’s effectively two-timing them. (And if the team DID win a division/league title, how could they ‘sell’ the “Your’re the greatest fans in the world” speech to the TV cameras?). Note: Regarding the GB Packers splitting their games between GB and MKE – that’s only about a 2.5 hr drive, and it’s in the same state, so that’s a big difference. Very few of my fellow Wisconsinites will drive 70 miles to Chicago to see the Bears, but they’ll still drive the 130 miles to GB.

  8. Well, how many games do the Harlem Globetrotters even play in Harlem? And don’t tell me all their road games against the Washington Generals are in D. C. Yet they still draw well! Cockamamie? Fiddlesticks!

    • And how many $500M – $1B stadiums are built for the Harlem Globetrotters – I think a good estimate (using standard rounding conventions) would be, oh… uh about ZERO. Also, the HGs are a novelty exhibition event, essentially a touring theater group, who don’t play in any competitive league. The players do have some impressive basketball skills, but I’ve never heard of them being classified as a ‘professional sports team’, have you?

        • And I killed it all by myself?
          I’m filing an appeal based on Poe’s Law!* :-)

          My-bad..Sorry about that….

          *.https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe%27s_law

          • Appeal granted!

            This never would have been a problem if HTML 5 had supported the <sarcasm> tag.

    • It really is a shame that the City Fathers didn’t take the Trotters’ threat to travel the world seriously if the Polo Grounds weren’t turned into a domed, air-conditioned basketball-only stadium.