The proposed plan to split the Rays’ Major League Baseball seasons between Tampa Bay and Montreal has been rejected by MLB, the team announced on Thursday.
The MLB Executive Council allowed the Rays in June 2019 to explore plans for a shared season with the team playing games in spring training in Tampa Bay, then splitting the season with Tampa Bay in the first half and Montreal in the second half. Commissioner Rob Manfred said the aim would be “to preserve baseball in Tampa, but improve the economics of the club overall by playing some of their games in Montreal.”
The Rays formally asked the executive council for permission at the owners’ meetings in November with the proposal involving the construction of new ballparks in each city.
“Today’s news is flat-out deflating,” said Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg, who has been trying to get a new venue in Tampa Bay and has pushed the idea of a split-season between Florida and Canada for more than two years. Sternberg said the team will continue exploring stadium options in Tampa Bay.
The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season. Tickets have never been in high demand in the area for Rays games, with teams such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox drawing more fans to games than Rays fans. The team ranked 28th in attendance last season at approximately 9,500 per game, ahead of only Miami and Oakland.
“We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals,” St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said in a statement. “With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”
Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have never been able to agree on a new ballpark plan in the area. The team was unable to reach a deal with Hillsborough County in 2018 for a $900 million stadium in Ybor City and scrapped plans in 2009 for renovating Al Lang Stadium, which sits on the St. Petersburg waterfront and was a former spring training host for multiple teams for over 60 years. The stadium since 2011 has been the home for the USL Championship’s Tampa Bay Rowdies.
“We’re certainly gonna be exploring things in the Tampa Bay region,” Sternberg said Thursday to reporters. “I’ve said since I’ve owned the team for 17 years that our goal has been to keep it here for generations and generations. We have tried in the past to build in St. Petersburg, we’ve tried to build full season in Tampa, as well, so the idea that it wouldn’t work completely is not necessarily the way our approach has been. We felt this [the ‘sister city’ plan] was a much better approach, and something that ensured that it would work. We’ll see how the stands look this year and the support we get, and that’s gonna help inform us, as well, going forward on our plans.”
Montreal had a MLB team with the Expos from 1969 until 2004 when the franchise moved to Washington. The city had discussed a new ballpark but no firm approvals for construction had been granted. The MLB move on Thursday still allows the city to become a potential expansion franchise should there be expansion in the future plus it also keeps the city as a viable relocation option.