Friday roundup: Tampa official stonewalls, Falcons get sued, Amazon is the new Olympics

Okay, let’s do this thing:

MLB commissioner mentions Charlotte’s name on the telly!

The last time prior to yesterday that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about possible future expansion, in May of last year, he said that “I would love to see us expand” and “my personal, sort of, frontrunner would be Montreal or Mexico City.”

Yesterday,  at his All-Star Game press conference, and said:

I think we have some great candidates. I know the mayor of Montreal has been very vocal about bringing baseball back to Montreal. It was not great when the Expos left. The fact of the matter was baseball was successful in Montreal for a very long time. Charlotte is a possibility. And I would like to think that Mexico City or some place in Mexico would be another possibility.

Notice the one thing that’s not like the other?

This isn’t actually the first time that Manfred has mentioned Charlotte as an expansion possibility — he did so back in 2015 as well, along with Portland — but in baseball Kremlinology, it’s de rigueur to interpret the hell out of every word out of the guy’s mouth, so let’s give it a shot. Maybe Charlotte has jumped to the head of the list in the last 14 months for some reason? (Probably not, but maybe Jerry Reinsdorf got a nice salad at the airport there or something.) Maybe the owners of the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s — who again were mentioned by Manfred as needing their stadium situations “resolved” (read: somebody to build them new ones, ideally with public money) before expansion can take place — wanted a city to use as a potential move threat that was actually in the Unites States? Maybe he was waiting for the North Carolina anti-transgender bathroom bill to be repealed and the sports boycotts to end? Maybe some reporter from a Charlotte news outlet was in the crowd, and Manfred just wanted to see them get all excited when he mentioned their city’s name?

Anyway, if you really care to think about where MLB might expand to eventually, here’s a nice piece from SI’s Jay Jaffe from last year running down all the potential candidates and their pros and cons. If it has to wait out a Rays stadium denouement in particular, don’t hold your breath for anything in the next couple of years, but sometime in the 2020s MLB expansion should be ready to go — assuming the Miami Marlins don’t need to relocate by then because they’re underwater.

Montreal all set to get new Expos — oh wait, false alarm, never mind

Montreal is all set to get a new MLB team!

A group of Montreal investors has met the conditions laid out by Major League Baseball to get a team back in the city, a source has told The Canadian Press.

“I can tell you we are no longer looking for investors and that we believe we have all the ingredients to be able to welcome a team, be it an expansion one or one that already exists,” the person said on condition of anonymity.

No, Montreal is not all set to get a new MLB team.

[Cirque du Soleil Chairman Mitch] Garber went on Mitch Melnick’s show on TSN 690 Radio Wednesday evening to clear up the picture. While acknowledging that a group of investors he is part of is very interested, he said talk of agreements on financial support from two levels of government and potential locations and designs for a stadium were inaccurate.

“There’s this great desire to have Major League Baseball in Montreal,” Garber said. “But it’s not as advanced as this story would make it sound.”

You probably could have guessed this from the source for the first story, which was literally “a source,” which could be anybody with any reason to want to spin the coverage to make it seem like a new Expos was imminent. While Garber and company may be doing well at putting together a list of investors, it’s long way from there to figuring out how much it would cost to buy a team (or pay expansion fees) and to build a new stadium, and then how to pay for all of it. So we’re a ways off.

That said, Montreal is a great city, and a large media market, and has a better track record of supporting baseball than you’d think if you only remember the post-firesale Expos (2.3 million in 1983, good enough for third in the NL!), so putting a team there isn’t a terrible idea for all concerned. Olympic Stadium, though, while actually kind of cool in some ways, was never all that good a place to watch baseball, so a new team would want a new stadium, at least in the medium term. And those don’t come cheap — though I still wonder how little you could get away with if you built, say, an exact replica of the original Wrigley Field, without any of the giant scoreboards or luxury seating or whatnot. Sure, you’d be giving up on some revenue streams then, but are those really enough to be worth today’s bloated construction costs. Maybe Philip Bess knows.

Rays owner conducted study of moving to Montreal, says a guy

So on Sunday, this happened:


For those of you who ne parlent pas français:

Serious! Stewart Sternberg, owner of the Tampa Bay Rays RECENTLY funded a study of viability of a stadium in Griffintown. Sternberg is the main shareholder (48%) of the Rays he wishes to move and not sell and Mtl, is top of the list. Griffintown would be the ideal site. It’s two small steps from downtown.

According to Patrice Derome (hi, Patrice!), Trudel — whose Twitter bio describes him as a “journaliste et commentateur sportif sans attache,” which is exactly what it sounds like — subsequently went on the radio and said that the study was conducted a few months back. What the study consisted of, and what it found, I couldn’t tell you.

I’d be tempted to say this is just Sternberg trying to throw a scare into Tampa Bay area cities, except that if so, you’d think he’d have leaked it to a journalist avec attache, at least. Though since, as Noah Pransky notes at Shadow of the Stadium, this would potentially be a violation of the Rays lease clause that only allows Sternberg to look at alternate stadium sites within the bay area, maybe he had to go super-stealth mode on this? Or maybe he’s really considering moving the team to Montreal, or doing due diligence to see how expensive a Tampa Bay stadium would have to be before it would be worth his while to move, or just wanted an excuse to try some of those funny bagels. We’re deep, deep into speculation here, so please no freaking out and/or getting to excited just yet, especially since the Rays can’t leave Tampa Bay until 2027 regardless, at which point the onrushing death of cable will likely have made the sports business market unrecognizable anyway.

The Rays, for their part, promptly said nothing at all:

MLB commissioner again says Montreal expansion possible, if they make it worth his while

Speaking of hinting around, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred mentioned Montreal as a possible league expansion site this week, which got lots of still-bereft Expos fans excited. Sure, he mostly did so by listing all the things that have to happen before a new franchise could get bestowed upon the city, but that’s at least a start:

“There are two stadium situations, Tampa and Oakland, that need to be resolved before I believe the owners have any appetite for thinking about expansion,” Manfred said. “Hopefully, we’re going to make good progress on both of those stadium situations in the relatively short term.”…

“And then we would begin, first, with an internal debate as to whether baseball wants to go to 32 [teams],” Manfred said. “Assuming the owners make that decision, it would then begin the process of selecting two cities.

“I will say, in terms of schedule format, 32 teams is a nice number for us.”

That’s all pretty unremarkable — if we were going to expand, we’d have to talk about it first, and then we’d need to pick two cities — and Manfred has said this sort of thing before, and it  leaves out the elephant in the room: Montreal would need a stadium for its team to play in, and somebody to pay for it. And Manfred also said this:

“Obviously with the way the economics operate in our game, that’s a very, very significant economic decision because it means that 1/30th owned assets and revenue streams become 1/32nd.”

Read between the lines, then, and it comes down to “Sure, Montreal sounds great, as soon as someone comes up with stadium cash and one of those crazy-high expansion fees that the NHL just got from Las Vegas, then we’ll be happy to listen, maybe.” Can’t get if you don’t ask, right?

MLB commissioner hints at Montreal, Mexico City expansion teams, someday

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about baseball expansion on Thursday (on a White Sox broadcast, for some reason), and said “growth businesses tend to expand” but that “I would love to see us expand” and “my personal, sort of, frontrunner would be Montreal or Mexico City.” Which, naturally, got people in Montreal and Mexico City all excited.

Manfred did say he wanted to settle on a new labor agreement and resolve the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays stadium situations first (for those not following along: the situation is that the A’s and Rays owners want new stadiums, and nobody’s offering to pay for them/provide land for them yet), which all makes sense. Still, you’d normally think that a league commissioner would be more hesitant to identify frontrunners without demanding that stadium deals be in place first. Possible explanations are: Things are so preliminary around expansion that Montreal and Mexico City need carrots more than sticks at the moment; MLB is more excited about potential expansion fees (and/or wooing TV partners with the possibility of expanding into new markets) than about shaking down cities for maximum stadium money; or Manfred just isn’t very good at this whole extortion racket.

Some Canadian suggests Montréal and Tampa sharing Rays, people take it seriously because February

How can you tell it’s a slow time for sports news? When you get a Montréal newspaper (La Presse, in this case) writing that hey, what if the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t totally move to Montréal, but just played half their home games there? Via Google Translate:

According to information obtained by La Presse, the idea of “joint ownership” of Rays with the current owners circulates behind the scenes, not to completely relocate the team to Montreal, but to have “shared custody” in some so.

The Rays would play half their games of the season “regular” in Montreal and the other half in Tampa. One way to help the club in Florida and reduce the bill for potential buyers, here.

“The bite would be less fat, says a source involved in the reflection. You do not have to sign a check for 600 million US, but 300 million. That would dampen spending, but also the risk, given that the team would be attached to both markets simultaneously.”

Hey, that actually makes … no real sense at all. Both cities are fine enough smallish MLB markets, but if what Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is after is a new stadium, he’d then be faced with figuring out how to get two built instead of one — the only place to play baseball in Montréal right now is Olympic Stadium, which is even older and more unpleasantly domed than Tropicana Field. La Presse seems to think that the Rays could make more TV money this way somehow — “‘There would be no 50% discount for the sponsor because the TV rights are sold to two different broadcasters. It’s win-win!’ said an anonymous source” — but this assumes that both Tampa Bay and Montréal fans would be just as interested in half a team as in a whole team, which seems dubious from here.

The last team I can recall trying something like this on more than an interim basis was the Virginia Squires of the ABA, who split their time among Norfolk, Hampton, Richmond, and Roanoke, which are at least within driving distance of each other, not to mention in the same country. The Montreal Bay Rayspos, on the other hand … sorry, there’s no reason to take this seriously based on “reflection” “behind the scenes.”

Unless you’re Tampa Bay Times sportswriter Marc Topkin, who’s never met an opportunity to stump for a new Rays stadium he didn’t like, of course:

A creative, if not desperate, idea to bring baseball back to Montreal was floated today in the the French language newspaper La Presse — buying the Rays and having them play half their home games in Canada and half in the Tampa Bay area.

The idea of “joint ownership” and “shared custody” is said to be circulating “behind the scenes” among Montreal baseball interests, François Cardinal writes.

How many more days till pitchers and catchers, already?

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.

That Montreal hospital site really is too small to fit a baseball stadium, guys

I finally did what I should have done this morning and took a look at that proposed Montreal baseball stadium site on Google Maps, and … wow, that is small. Like, really small. Like, let’s compare it to the smallest current MLB stadiums on Google Maps:

hospitalThat’s the old Montreal Children’s hospital at lower center. Now, let’s look at Target Field in Minneapolis, same scale:

targetAnd Wrigley Field:

wrigleySo, yeah, you’re going to need a bigger boat. And there doesn’t seem to be much of a way to make more room on the Montreal site: Avenue Atwater (pronounced by the Montreal Metro announcer, deliciously, as “at-wah-teah”) and Boulevard René Lévesque are major thoroughfares, and aren’t going anywhere, You could take over Cabot Square, a public park, I suppose, but that would still mean a crazy-short fence in left field — here, you know what, let’s bring in Fenway Park as well to see if that would fit:

fenwayYeah, this looks like beyond a tight squeeze, unless you get rid of the public park and knock down the Pentacostal church across the street — and even then, you’d be talking about by far the smallest ballpark built for an MLB team in more than a century. It’s not impossible, but it just might be infinitely improbable.

Montreal hospital site could be used for MLB stadium, says guy not planning to pay for it

There’s a guy in Montreal who wants to build a new baseball stadium! Okay, really there’s a guy in Montreal who just bought a plot of downtown land and wants somebody else to build a baseball stadium maybe, but come on, feel the excitement:

“I have a meeting scheduled in the next week with one of the biggest major league baseball persons,” [Luc Poirier] said.

“I have only one [person], but a big one. A big, big one.”

A big, big one. Cue the Bartolo Colon jokes.

Aside from the fact that this is almost certainly just a landowner trying to drum up some attention for his new purchase, it’s questionable whether you could even fit a stadium on the site, which is both small and oddly shaped. Former Expos star and current Montreal MLB advocate Warren Cromartie called it “a little too small,” and former Grantland sportswriter (and Expos fan, and old Baseball Prospectus colleague of mine) Jonah Keri called it “pretty small,” and … you get the point. I’ve been wrong before about making small sites work — I memorably predicted that a Nets arena could never be built in Brooklyn because it would require knocking down a whole block of buildings, and that would never happen, right? — so don’t rule this out entirely. But do feel free to file it under “take it seriously once somebody actually flashes some cash.”