Those two lobbyists that Montreal billionaire family scion and private equity goon Stephen Bronfman hired to push for a stadium for a revived Expos are already paying off, whether they’ve even begun work or not: Quebec premier François Legault responded by offering forgivable loans for the project if it could “generate more in revenue than the aid we give the company” (“revenue” carefully not defined here), and the buzz is still buzzing: Check out this column by Montreal Gazette sportswriter Jack Todd decrying “anti-taxers” and “naysayers” who want to gripe about giving public tax money to a private sports stadium before they even know how much it would be.
Amidst his stadium boosterism, though, Todd questions whether Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg’s plan to have his team split time between Montreal and Tampa Bay — Todd actually writes that the resulting ballclub would be “likely called the ‘Ex-Rays’,” though he doesn’t go as far as including “Tampontreal” — is something that could really happen, given that building two stadiums in two cities would be even more expensive than building one stadium in one city, and each city would only get half a team. Not only is this not a terrific way to get local legislators on board for handing over stadium cash, it’s gotten the attention of the MLB players union, whose president Tony Clark told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday that “there are issues, logistical and otherwise, fundamentally related to the Tampa players, as well as how it would affect any and all the teams that would otherwise be playing Tampa.” Players could be forced to maintain two homes, relocate their kids in school twice a year (depending on when exactly the Ex-Rays switched home cities), navigate two very different health care systems, etc., noted Clark; he didn’t mention, but could have, that they would also have to pay taxes in two different countries, which is the basis for Legault’s entire “revenue generation” plan.
There’s another problem with the shared-cities plan, though, and it has to do with Sternberg’s leverage, and as Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf made clear, for a savvy negotiator, stadium negotiations are all about leverage. Sternberg is trying to get a bidding war going here, which is his right as a mediocre rich white man, but the nature of a bidding war is that you need more bidders than winning slots, and right now the Rays owner has two of each. (At least until Tampa shows an interest in bidding against St. Petersburg for the Florida half of the timeshare, which isn’t going great for Sternberg so far.) So instead he’s trying to get Montreal and St. Pete into a race to first approve their half of a deal that can’t happen without both cities, which has resulted in some bizarre rhetorical contortions:
Sternberg said he feels “much more confident about the Montreal side sort of putting this thing together.”
He said he thinks that will jump-start progress on the Tampa Bay side, where there seems to be little momentum as fans and some leaders have not embraced the split-season concept.
“I think as (the Montreal effort) progresses, I feel pretty confident of us being able to get it done here, too,” he said. “I just happen to feel more so because they’re much further down the road.
“In fairness, whether it’s right or wrong, a.) they don’t have a baseball team, and b.) they lost a baseball team. So they’d like one back.
“Here you have one, and it’s sort of like, ‘It’s here, and, well, why only part of a season? Why not the full season? We have the team already.’ (Montreal is) going at this in a different fashion. They know what the hole of baseball has been. They want another crack at it.”
Yes, if Montreal has “momentum,” then soon Tampa Bay will too, because if they don’t … the team will just play its Florida games at its current stadium? The whole twin-city thing will fall apart and the Rays will stay put? Sternberg keeps insisting that he won’t move the team full-time, so as threats go, it’s a fairly empty one, unless he’s hoping St. Pete officials will be shamed by the accusation that they don’t love baseball enough because they haven’t lost it yet.
All in all, the Madman Theory still makes the most sense here: Sternberg doesn’t particularly care if the two-city solution comes to pass, so long as it enables him to pester two reluctant cities into building him a stadium at once. So far, it seems to be working: We’re here talking about his stadium possibilities, after all, instead of just talking about how SOL he is now that his Tampa stadium plans crashed and burned. Savvy negotiators also know never to pass up a threat, no matter how inane it may sound: Reinsdorf, after all, got his stadium cash from the state of Illinois by pretending he was going to move from Chicago to a little town called St. Petersburg. If there’s one thing sports history tells us, it’s that dumber things have always happened.