The Tampa Bay Rays recently wrapped up their second straight AL East title, and are on target to set the franchise record for wins in a season. While the focus is certainly on repeating as AL champs and winning the World Series for the first time ever, the Rays are also making time to promote anew their plan to divvy up future games between their current home in St. Petersburg and Montreal, Canada.
"While expressing club officials' desire to be 'very considerate' about keeping their focus on the field, Rays president Matt Silverman revealed the team will soon be 'more visible and more vocal' regarding its Sister City plan to split future seasons between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal."
Indeed, the Rays during the postseason will promote the Montreal split-city plan via signage at their home ballpark, Tropicana Field:
The Tampa Bay Rays will be advertising their plan to split home games with the City of Montreal via a graphic on the outfield fence at Tropicana Field during the 2021 Postseason.— Chris Creamer (@sportslogosnet) September 25, 2021
Story via @TBTimes_Rays here: https://t.co/kN93Kis4uF pic.twitter.com/7s4pFvyk5O
Former Marlins president David Samson discussed the Rays' two-city plan on Nothing Personal with David Samson this week. Listen below:
To put it charitably, this is a curious look for a team that presumably wants fans to attend their playoff games. Just to emphasize the specifics, Rays fans attending home playoff games will see a sign promoting a plan that will take that team away from them for perhaps half the time (or even more than half the time). One wonders whether this part of the time-honored playbook for teams angling to move, in that they discourage fans from showing up and then cite cratering attendance as the reason for needing to pick up stakes.
As for the Montreal plan, it's been a stated aim of Rays owner Stuart Sternberg since at least 2019. The idea is that the Rays would play their early season games in St. Petersburg and then relocate to Montreal for the latter portion of the baseball calendar -- how many games they'd play in each city isn't certain. Whatever those missing specifics, Sternberg hasn't been shy about advancing the idea:
MLB in 2019 granted permission for the Rays to explore playing a portion of their schedule in the former home of the Expos, but complicating matters is that the Rays are locked into their Tropicana Field lease through the 2027 season. That's an obstacle that can perhaps be cleared by the Rays, but that would take some high-level "statecraft" on their part.
Attendance has been a constant concern for the Rays, and that's in part because of the unappealing nature of Tropicana Field and its less-than-optimal location. As well, ownership's reluctance to invest in the on-field product and the roster churn that results from it play just as great a role in the turnstile issues, but the ballpark is the most convenient foil from their standpoint. The point, of course, is to extract tax dollars to buy the Rays a place of business, and in that sense the Montreal plan/threat could be an attempt to gain leverage. Or maybe it's a genuine aim.
Whatever the case, the idea isn't going away anytime soon, it seems.