Montreal public oversight board on nouveaux-Expos stadium: You call that a plan?

Montreal’s public consultation office — an organization set up to oversee public input into city decisions independent of local elected officials — has declined to rule on plans for a new baseball stadium at Peel Basin, writing that “it would be irresponsible to decide on this project on the basis of the partial information available to it.” And Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante appears to agree:

Speaking to reporters after a press conference, Mayor Valérie Plante said the stadium’s promoters should pay heed to the OCPM’s recommendations and confirmed that Montrealers would be consulted if and when a definite proposal is submitted to the city.

“They should take that report and read it very carefully,” she said, noting that the consultations showed opinions are sharply divided over the proposed stadium.

“I think it would be positive for Montreal to have a baseball team back. I think it would be great … but then the question is about how will it be financed, where it will be located and how it will integrate with the territory,” she said.

The OCPM report added, “No plan, nor any study measuring economic, social and environmental impacts have been brought to the attention of the commission.”

This is obviously a setback for Stephen Bronfman’s plans for a new baseball stadium, either for a Tampontreal Ex-Rays shared franchise or for a straight-up expansion team, but a reasonable one, given that so far Bronfman has only revealed that the stadium and mixed-use development around it would cost $2.5 billion, with no details about how it would be paid for, what the federal government would get for its land that the project would be built on, or any other financial specifics. But it would also be “green”! People like green, right?

The OCPM also noted that the project is “very controversial,” with more than half of respondents in an “online consultation” opposed to a baseball stadium. Mayor Plante added (per Google Translate), “There is no plan, no outline, nothing. I did not see anything. I don’t have a tangible project, it’s very difficult for me to decide. We expect to see impact and financial studies.”

The report doesn’t appear to be translated into English yet, is too large for Google Translate, and I can only speak bad high school French, so any further analysis will need to await more reporting in the Googleable media. Bronfman issued a press statement yesterday saying only, “The Montreal Baseball Group (MBG) will carefully review the report and will have no further comment at this time.”

Rays declare January 2022 deadline for Tampontreal deal, or else they’ll do “something”

This one snuck in while I was writing Friday’s news roundup: Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld declared Thursday that while team execs remain focused on the bonkers plan of playing home games in new stadiums in both Tampa Bay and Montreal, if they can’t work that out by January of 2022, then “we need to figure something [else] out.”

What’s so magic about January of 2022, when the team can’t relocate for even part of a season until 2028, unless given special permission by the city of St. Petersburg? Time for a trip to Chapter 4 of Field of Schemes, “The Art of the Steal”:

Step 5: The Two-Minute Warning

No matter how well you’ve played your cards to this point, there’s always the danger that the proceedings may threaten to drag on indefinitely as pesky voters demand referenda or legislative leaders hit gridlock on deciding on a funding plan. At this point you may want to declare a crisis: Proclaim that the window of opportunity on a new stadium will remain open only for so long, leaving unstated what disaster will befall the city if the window should be allowed to slam shut. [Frank] Rashid [of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club] calls it the “used car salesman” approach: Buy now because this offer won’t be good for long.

The two-minute warning is especially risible in the case of the Rays, because Tampa Bay and Montreal appear to be their only two good options for playing in. I suppose Rays owner Stuart Sternberg could announce in early 2022 that he’s now conducting a nationwide search for a new home for 2028, in the hopes that Portland or Charlotte or someplace can get interested in starting a bidding war if Tampa Bay and Montreal aren’t interested. Or, if only one of Tampa/St. Pete and Montreal seems likely to cough up stadium funds, he can use his preannounced deadline as an excuse to say, Sorry, we thought the two-city thing would work out, but we’ll take the stadium in the hand over two in the bush, thanks — which makes more sense as a strategy anyway than the two-city thing.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s not to believe anything that sports team owners say when talking about moving teams, or setting deadlines, or really anything when money is on the line, because as we should all remember by now, a savvy negotiator creates leverage. The Field of Schemes section on the two-minute warning (and the followup section in Chapter 13, “The Art of the Steal Revisited”) includes stories of Houston Astros execs setting deadlines in 1995 for a move to Virginia, then continually extending them through 1996 until Houston agreed to provide stadium funding; the Florida Marlins owners setting final deadlines year after year after which they would move the team out of state, each year returning hat in hand until they finally got what they wanted out of Miami; and a Dallas Cowboys spokesperson admitting that the team had set a deadline for stadium funding partly “to create a sense of urgency.” If there’s ever an “Art of the Steal Re-Revisited,” I’ll be holding space open for the story of the Rays.

Tampontreal Ex-Rays partnership already blowing up real good

Big news out of Montreal this weekend, where would-be Tampa Bay Rays co-owner Stephen Bronfman — Seagram heir, son of former Expos owner Charles Bronfman, and prospective Rays co-owner if they split time between two countries as current owner Stuart Sternberg insists against all sense and reason is what he’s seriously considering —  announced that a purchase deal could be imminent! Via Google Translate:

“In a few months, probably three or four, our group from Montreal will become co-owner of the Tampa team with Stuart Sternberg, the current owner of the Rays. The negotiations are very advanced. We are going to become minority shareholders, but that doesn’t bother us at all. Stuart Sternberg is a straight man who is nothing like Jeffrey Loria [former owner of the Expos],” says Bronfman.

Whoa, the Tampontreal Ex-Rays plans are so advanced that they could have a Canadian co-owner by as soon as May? That would be something! Except that Sternberg immediately chimed in with a big nuh-uh:

Sternberg said Montreal group leader Stephen Bronfman was incorrect in saying those negotiations were underway and a sale could be completed in the next three-four months.

“It isn’t true,’’ Sternberg said Saturday at Rays camp. “Eventually, at a point, I would expect and believe they could and would become minority partners. … I need some representation up there. But there’s nothing happening in months. No way.’’

Now, on the one hand, this isn’t a huge stumbling block or anything: Sternberg doesn’t have to be in any hurry to sell a share of his team, even if he does fully intend to go through with this two-state solution. (If doesn’t fully intend to do so, of course, he’s in even less of a hurry.) But Bronfman announcing one thing and then Sternberg immediately shutting it down is certainly a sign that the two aren’t completely on the same page, which is not a sign of a deal where all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. It would make way more sense if Sternberg is just stringing Bronfman along as a way to see what cities, if any, he can finally get to go along with his plan to get a new stadium (or two!) with somebody else footing the bill — which, again, isn’t proof that that’s what Sternberg is up to, but it certainly all fits.

And anyway, mostly what this does in our 280-character age is get “Rays and Montreal” trending, and that can only benefit Sternberg as he haggles for whatever he can get. This is going to be a long, long ride — I mean, it’s already been going on for over a decade, but it has a long, long way yet to go — so try not to get too distracted by any one week’s headlines, though by all means go ahead and get a schadenfreude-y chuckle out of them.

 

Sternberg meets with Tampa officials about shared-city Rays plan, it’s working, it’s wooooorking, mwuahaha!

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg, taking advantage of his newly confirmed right to talk before 2028 about moving the Rays out of St. Petersburg (but not to talk about moving the Rays out of St. Petersburg before 2028), met for 2.5 hours yesterday with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan about splitting the team between new stadiums in Tampa and Montreal, and also not splitting the team between new stadiums in Tampa and Montreal:

“The goal is to try and have an agreement with all three entities [the Rays, Tampa, and Hillsborough County] by the end of the year. It’s extremely aggressive. However, having gone through the last several-year exercise, I appreciate the sense of urgency and the goal of trying to reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” said Hagan, who led the talks with the team for the proposed $892 million stadium in Ybor City before they broke down in December 2018….

Castor agreed, but said she hadn’t given up hope for keeping the Rays for the entire 162-game season.

“The focus was on the split season, but I don’t think the full season is off the table yet,” Castor said.

And Hagan added:

“I am still hopeful that we can go back to the original model and framework of an entire season in Ybor City,” said Hagan. “I take the Rays at their word. Right now we are only considering a split season concept.”

Whether this whole Tampontreal Ex-Rays plan is serious or a lavishly orchestrated bluff, you’ll note that it’s working out pretty well for Sternberg: He’s gone in just one year from even his own commissioner saying he was stuck playing in St. Petersburg to suddenly getting to hold stadium talks with cities in two nations. If it lands him a new stadium in Tampa, great; if it lands him a new stadium in Montreal but not one in Tampa, he can go to the public and MLB and say, “Hey, I tried with Tampa, they didn’t hold up their end of the deal, Quebec ho!”; if it lands him new stadium offers in both, he can either pick one or go ahead with his cockamamie scheme. And if lands him nothing, well, at least he’s no worse off than where he started.

Castor and Hagan said the goal is for a deal for a Tampa stadium to be in place by the end of the year, which is a meaningless deadline since it can be extended at any time, but does provide the three parties a nice way to turn up their crisis inducers. Castor noted that “the citizens’ appetite of paying for a stadium is about zero at this point,” which is a sticking point, but there are enough creative ways to fund a stadium without making it look like citizens are paying for it when they really are — tax breaks, tax increment financing districts, free land deals, “infrastructure” spending, hey-look-over-there-what’s-that — that you know they’ll come up with something to try.

Noah Pransky, you have anything to add?

Ayep. Throw another data point on the fire for “Stuart Sternberg, not so much crazy as crazy like a fox.”

Saturday roundup: Manfred endorses Tampontreal Ex-Rays, NYCFC readies Bronx stadium plan (maybe), everybody in Nashville sues everybody else

Man, I sure picked the wrong week to get so sick that I couldn’t post for a couple of days! But even if it’s now the weekend and I’m only at about 80%, the news is at 110%, so let’s get to it:

  • First up is Thursday’s declaration by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred that he and baseball owners are “100% convinced” that having the Tampa Bay Rays play half their games in Montreal “is best way to keep Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.” That’s not entirely surprising — I mean, it’s surprising that we have a major sports executive saying that the best way to keep a team from moving is to let it move half its games, but no more surprising than when Rays owner Stuart Sternberg first said it last June — since it’s very rare for sports commissioners and fellow owners to stand in the way of their fellow owners’ stadium or relocation plans, especially if it doesn’t infringe on their territories. (Speaking of territories, Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said, “We are supportive of them exploring it,” if you were wondering.) The plan itself remains, in the words of the great unemployed sports editor Barry Petchesky, “completely batshit,” not least because it would require getting not one but two cities to build not one but two new stadiums just to land half a team, but also for a billion other reasons. It still makes the most sense as a Madman Theory strategy by Sternberg to scare Tampa Bay or Montreal into competing to build him at least one stadium — can you imagine the headlines to come about “Montreal is moving ahead with its stadium while Tampa lags behind?” or vice versa? — but sports owners are just rich, not necessarily smart, so who the hell knows what Sternberg really intends to do? Whatever it is, though, he’ll have Manfred’s support, because Manfred knows who signs his checks.
  • NYC F.C.‘s plan for a new stadium just south of Yankee Stadium has been reportedly almost ready for more than a year and a half now, but now it’s supposedly really almost ready, according to a different New York Times reporter than the one who reported the initial rumor. The outline of the plan remains roughly the same: The Yankees owners, who are minority owners of the MLS club, would allow the city to demolish a parking garage that their lease otherwise requires remain in place, a private developer would take the garage and a parcel across the street and the street itself (plus a highway off-ramp) and build housing and a hotel and other stuff on part of it while leasing the rest to NYC F.C. to build a stadium on, which would — again, supposedly — allow the whole thing to move forward without public money being used for construction. Being used for other things is another story: The Times doesn’t mention whether the team or developers would pay the city anything for the section of East 153rd Street that would need to be demapped and buried beneath a soccer pitch, or how much the developers would pay to lease the garage site, or if either parcel would pay property taxes. (The Times reports that “Maddd and N.Y.C.F.C. [would] convey the [street] property to the city” then lease it back, which certainly sounds like an attempt to evade property taxes.) City officials said that “a deal has not been reached, and more conversations are needed,” so maybe none of these things have even been decided; tune back in soon, or maybe in another year and a half!
  • The lawsuit filed by Save Our Fairgrounds claiming that Nashville S.C. stadium project would take up too much public land needed for other uses is moving to trial, and Nashville S.C. has sued to intervene in their lawsuit, and everybody’s trying to figure out if NASCAR and soccer can coexist on adjacent parcels, and soccer fans are mad that that stadium isn’t getting built yet, and the community coalition that negotiated a community benefits agreement to go along with the stadium plan is mad that nobody’s consulting them about any of this. It’s only a matter of time before Jimmy Carter is called in to resolve this.
  • Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has put $55 million into his state budget proposal over the next two years to renovate Hartford’s arena, with the rest of the cost — estimated at between $100 million and $250 million, depending on how extensive it is — to be paid off by private investors who would get … something. The state is studying it now! Get off their back!
  • A bunch of the Carolina Panthers fans who bought “permanent seat licenses” to help finance the team’s stadium back in 1993 have found that the “permanent” part isn’t actually so much true: About 900 seats in the front of one end zone are being ripped out to make way for luxury suites for soccer (or a standing-room “supporters’ section — the latter makes more sense, but the Charlotte Observer article on this is frustratingly unclear), so fans with PSLs there are being offered either to move to other nearby locations or to sell their licenses back to the team for 25% over what they initially paid for them. No wonder everyone else started calling them “personal” seat licenses!
  • Also, the Panthers are having their stadium property tax bill reduced by $3.5 million a year, because they asked nicely. Or just asked, and are a major sports franchise and therefore an 800-pound gorilla, with all the privileges that go with that. One of those two.
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to play two home games in London next year, which the team’s website says is “strategically aligned” with development in their Jacksonville stadium’s parking lot, somehow, though is one extra week of construction time really going to help them all that much? Or maybe this is some weird kind of brinkmanship, as in “approve our Lot J development, stat, or we’ll keep moving games to London?” Anyway, cue people freaking out about the Jaguars moving to London again now, which team owner Shad Khan can’t be unhappy about because savvy negotiators and leverage and all that.
  • A poll by the Oakland Athletics on where the team should build a new stadium found that Oakland residents backed the team’s preferred Howard Terminal site by 63-29%, but a poll by a group that opposes the Howard Terminal plan found that residents prefer the current Oakland Coliseum site by a 62-29% margin. Reminder: Polls are garbage!
  • This video of an entire Russian hockey arena collapsing during reconstruction work, with a worker clearly visible on the roof as it gives way, doesn’t actually have much to with stadium subsidies, but it sure is impressive-looking, in a horrific way.

St. Pete mayor says Rays owner asked about Montreal move before 2028, is maybe not world’s best negotiator

Yesterday was a no good, very bad day, but we can’t let that distract us from all the other no-goodness going on in the world. And yesterday that was news that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he’d received a “formal” request from Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to play half their home games in Montreal before the team’s use agreement allows it starting in 2028. Sort of, maybe?

On Wednesday, city policy chief Kevin King said the team has made a formal request to play home games in Montreal before 2027.

“Yes, long ago,” he said by phone, before deferring to the mayor.

Kriseman, shortly thereafter, initially would not confirm the team made a formal request, saying only that the Rays have “clearly expressed their desire to explore a split season with Montreal.”

Later in the conversation, the mayor confirmed the request met the “formal” threshold.

“I guess you could consider it to be…” the mayor said before trailing off. “It was much more specific so I guess you could consider it to be a formal request.”

Kriseman said the request was oral and that nothing has been put in writing. He said he couldn’t remember at what point the request went from “informal” to “formal.” Nor would he say what exactly the team asked for, or any concessions the team offered.

Many, many questions here! First off, since that use agreement explicitly forbids Sternberg from talking to anyone about playing home games outside St. Peterburg before 2028 (not, as previously thought, from talking to anyone before 2028 about playing home games outside St. Petersburg, thanks to a late amendment to the terms made way back in 1995), did Kriseman demand anything in return for Sternberg not shutting his trap about it immediately? Are the two sides in negotiation over this? And most important, where the hell would Sternberg be playing games, since his original Tampontreal Ex-Rays plan required building two new stadiums, one in Canada and one in Florida, and if they’re really going to be playing in them by 2024 as Sternberg says he wants, they really better get on that?

The obvious suspicion, of course, is — here, let’s let Shadow of the Stadium’s Noah Pransky say it, he’s earned the right to be the interpreter of Sternberg’s madness:

If it’s leverage, though, it’s leverage of a weird kind: Everyone knows that Sternberg can leave in 2028 for nothing, so making demands about leaving earlier when your lease says you can’t and you have nowhere to play then anyway is an oddly empty threat. I suppose getting the Montreal talk back in the headlines increases pressure on both Kriseman and Tampa stadium backers (and, for that matter, Montreal stadium backers) to take action on funding a stadium — since that’s something Kriseman has made clear he’s not interested in doing himself — but then why on earth is Kriseman the one leaking this news about the move request, and not indicating that he’d shot it down? Even if he secretly wants the Rays to leave his city so he can redevelop the Tropicana Field property, as some have suggested, isn’t making Sternberg’s arguments for him in the media pretty much the opposite of savvy negotiating?

Anyway, the Rays playing home games in two countries at once still makes no sense except as an idle threat, but given that we’ve seen sports team owners make incredibly dumb moves before just to show they’re willing to carry out idle threats, we can’t entirely rule it out as a possibility. This is the kind of story that calls for a robust sports media with a keen sense of how politics works to ferret out what’s really going on, and … like I said, it was a no good, very bad day.

Friday roundup: Indiana and Missouri rack up another $390m in team subsidies, and other dog-bites-man news

Sadly, there’s another loss to report this week: Rob McQuown, who for the past decade has been one of the core tech and admin guys at Baseball Prospectus, passed away on Tuesday. I never met Rob personally, but in my days writing and editing for BP we exchanged emails a ton, and he was always a sharp and good-humored presence keeping the site running behind the scenes. (He wrote some excellent fantasy baseball coverage for a while, too.) I haven’t heard the details of his death, but I do know it was way too soon, and my sympathies go out to all his friends and family and colleagues who are mourning him this week. Here’s a lovely podcast tribute by Ben Lindbergh to Rob’s multifarious and too-often underappreciated gifts.

And now, to the news:

  • The Indianapolis City-County Council gave final signoff to $290 million in subsidies for the Indiana Pacers, which along with new and past operating subsidies brings team owner Herb Simon’s total haul to more than a billion dollars. The team’s new lease lasts until 2044, but I’d wager that Simon won’t wait that long before going back to what’s been an insanely lucrative taxpayer well.
  • The state of Missouri has reportedly approved $3 million a year for 20 years, coming to a total of $70 million, for upgrades for the St. Louis Blues, Kansas City Royals, and Kansas City Chiefs stadiums — yeah, I don’t get how that math works either, especially when this was previously reported as $70 million for the Blues plus $30 million for the K.C. teams, and has elsewhere been reported as $70 million for the Blues and $60 million for the K.C. teams, but I’m sure it was copied from a press release somewhere, and that’s what passes for fact-checking these days, right? This brings the teams’ total haul to … let’s see, the K.C. teams got $250 million previously, and the Blues owners got $67 million in city money, so let’s go with “around $400 million,” about which you can say that it’s at least cheaper than what Indiana taxpayers are on the hook for, and that is pretty much all you can say.
  • The city of Anaheim is still waiting on its now-overdue appraisal of the Los Angeles Angels‘ stadium land so it can open talks with team owner Arte Moreno on how much he should pay for development rights on the stadium parking lots. Mayor Harry Sidhu has appointed a negotiating team, though, which includes Sidhu himself, something that has drawn criticism since Angels execs donated to his election campaign. Sidhu also stated that “our theme parks, sports venues and convention center are a matter of pride, but their real purpose is to serve residents by generating revenue for public safety, parks, libraries and community centers and by helping us keep taxes and fees low,” which is not likely to help convince anyone that he understands sports economics like his predecessor did and isn’t just repeating what his funders tell him.
  • Oak View Group’s Tim Leiweke is trying to build a 10,000-seat arena in Palm Springs, and economists point out that this won’t help the local economy much because “you’re crazy if you think I’m flying to Palm Springs to see your minor league hockey team,” and Leiweke says Palm Springs is just different, okay, because so many attendees will be people who are already coming to town to play golf, gamble, or stay at local resorts. How this makes it a major economic plus when those people also see a concert when they’re in town Leiweke didn’t say, but who’re you going to believe, a bunch of people who study economics for a living or a guy who was once the youngest GM in indoor soccer?
  • A Cincinnati nonprofit is trying to raise $2 million to preserve affordable housing around F.C. Cincinnati‘s new stadium, and the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority says that maybe building more market-rate housing will allow low-income residents of existing buildings to stay put. Yeah, that’s really not going to work.
  • Nobody in Miami-Dade County has studied the impact of building a new Inter Miami stadium right next to the city’s airport, and some county commissioners think that maybe that might be a thing they’d want to study.
  • Here’s a good, long R.J. Anderson article on three cities vying for MLB expansion teams (Portland, Montreal, and Raleigh) that should provide reading material for the inevitable endless wait for MLB to actually expand. (I’m also quoted in it, right before Jim Bouton.)
  • And here’s another long article that quotes me, this one by Bill Shea of The Athletic on how stadium subsidies have changed since the Great Recession (some sports economists say it’s tougher to get public money now, I say “Bah!”).

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.

Rays owner stages hour-long tirade about how Montreal-Tampa split team is not a threat, but a promise

When MLB commissioner Rob Manfred dropped his bombshell last week about Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg seeking permission to have his team build new stadiums in both Montreal and Tampa Bay and split time between them, the big question was: Is Sternberg serious? Not serious about going through with it, necessarily — there are many, many reasons why a two-nation team is a terrible idea — but serious about using it as a threat to shake loose some stadium money at a time when his lease prohibits him from threatening anything until after the 2027 season?

Well, Sternberg and other Rays execs held an hour-long press conference yesterday, and the answer is hoo baby yeah he is serious. Not only did he double down on insisting that the Tampontreal ExpoRays can be a real thing, but he said it would be great not only for the team but for Florida and — you know what, let’s hand the mic to longtime Rays stadium saga chronicler Noah Pransky:

Pransky then closed his Twitter window and hightailed it over to Florida Politics, where he reported that Sternberg’s discussions with would-be Montreal MLB owner Stephen Bronfman had triggered a legal inquiry by the city of St. Petersburg into whether this violated the team’s lease, which prohibits any stadium discussions anywhere other than that city until 2028:

According to mayoral spokesperson Ben Kirby: “The City Attorney’s office has been in contact with the general counsel for the Tampa Bay Rays and received assurances that the Rays will not commence exploration of the shared city concept, or conduct any other activities related to a pre-2028 future stadium site, without an agreement with the City of St. Petersburg. The Rays’ general counsel also confirmed that all conversations related to Montreal were limited to the time period after expiration of the use agreement.”

Pransky also noted:

  • Sternberg isn’t saying how much two stadiums in two cities would cost or how they’d be paid for, but a part-time stadium only in use in the spring could be build smaller and more cheaply.
  • That “economic impact” thing is completely bonkers: “Back-of-the-napkin math on this suggests St. Pete would need tens — or even hundreds — of thousands of new Canadian tourists to make this work, which seems somewhat ridiculous, given that no Montreal fan is going to want to watch their team in Florida’s June humidity when they could wait three weeks and watch them up north in July.”
  • Sternberg said that the site of St. Pete’s minor-league Al Lang Stadium, where his Tampa Bay Rowdies USL second-tier team now playes and which he once considered for a new domed stadium before abandoning the idea, was “absolutely a possibility.” Pransky had previously noted that Sternberg could be angling to move the Rays to the Al Lang site before 2028 by dangling the carrot of letting the city redevelop the Tropicana Field site sooner — which would also allow Sternberg to get a 50% share of any redevelopment money so long as the Rays still play in St. Pete. Pransky told Canadian sports radio that “I think Sternberg is trying to find a way to have his cake and eat it too — get the redevelopment money he’s entitled [to], but not have to play all these games in St. Petersburg. We’re talking tens, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Whatever exactly Sternberg has in mind, this is clearly a long, long con, or if nothing else a way to kill time and build momentum for something while waiting out the remaining eight years of his lease. It’s transparently a classic non-threat threat — even Twitter noticed — but the question now becomes what the Rays owner plans to do with any leverage that he’s savvily created, especially considering he faces an opponent in St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman who isn’t afraid to sue to enforce the lease’s gag rule on stadium talks.

Of course, it’s always possible this non-threat threat is all Sternberg plans to do, in hopes that it will shake loose more stadium talks in Tampa Bay, given that he’s tried that move (albeit without the Montreal gambit) roughly a billion times before:

This is all crazy, and it’s only likely to get crazier. It is not likely to get more Rays fans in Tampa Bay to go check out their pennant-contending team, but when you’re running a long con, you can’t sweat the small stuff like selling baseball tickets.

ADDENDUM: This Washington Post article doesn’t have much new information that Pransky didn’t already cover, but major props to whoever wrote its URL link.

St. Pete mayor on Rays’ Montreal timeshare plan: Nuh-uh, you won’t

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman hasn’t always been the hardest of hard-liners when it comes to stadium negotiations, coming to office in 2013 saying he was willing to talk about a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, and then handing Rays owner Stuart Sternberg a lease buyout option for a relatively modest price. (Though that worked out well when the buyout expired without Sternberg using it.) Handed a gimme yesterday, though, in the form of Sternberg’s offer/threat to build new stadiums in both Tampa Bay and Montreal and split time between them, Kriseman knocked it out of the park:

#micdrop.

There are many supremely dumb things about the Tampontreal ExpoRays gambit, but Kriseman has accurately identified the most important one: Sternberg can’t even talk about pursuing any kind of part-time move anywhere until after the 2027 season according to his lease with St. Pete, and St. Pete has zero incentive to let him. So while it doesn’t make much sense in reality, it makes even less sense as a threat. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred tried to explain it away as a plan for beyond 2027 — “They’re committed to being in Tampa Bay through 2027. This is a longer-term project for them” — but then why announce it now, unless you’re hoping Montreal will start gearing up to build a non-domed part-time stadium on spec, in the hopes that Sternberg will still want it (indeed, will still own the Rays at all) by the time 2028 rolls around and he can actually negotiate a move?

On the other hand, yesterday’s declaration got so very much press coverage that if the goal was to get people in Tampa Bay thinking about life without the Rays, at least during the summer months, then mission accomplished. If the goal was to get them to think about it without laughing and pointing, then not so much.