As Rays Sister City concept between Tampa Bay and Montreal gains traction, key questions remain unanswered

For two years now, the Tampa Bay Rays have been talking about a twin city concept that would see the team play half of their home games in Montreal. According to Tampa Bay Times reporter John Romano, the shared custody deal is gaining ground.

“[T]he direction in which this is heading suggests that the shared city plan is not a commotion around the corner, ”writes Romano. “As skeptical as I was about the plan two years ago, I have come to believe in the sincerity of the property.”

Yes – some people think this joint custody proposal is a real attempt to save baseball in Tampa Bay. Without it, the team will leave. This perception is correct.

And yes, others are skeptical. This has never been done before and presents a bunch of messy challenges including issues related to attendance, union approval, owner approval, and stadium construction. For many, the concept of a twin city represents nothing more than a transparent and calculated attempt by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to leverage the city’s pay for a new full-time stadium.

And why are many skeptical of Sternberg’s intentions? And why has the Montreal group failed to garner strong public support for the proposal despite a genuine attempt to land the Rays?

Ultimately, there are two basic questions that have not been answered, or at least adequately addressed. If all concerned want public support for the proposal, the following two key questions need to be addressed.

1) Why are the Montreal group waiting seven years for a half-team when they could get a full team in seven years as an expansion?

Sternberg has indicated that the Rays will not start sharing home games with Montreal until 2028 when their user agreement (or more or less, rental agreement) expires. This now infamous deal provides for significant financial penalties if the Rays leave town before the deal expires in 2027. These penalties go into effect even if the team only partially relocates (yes – the deal is so specific. ; bravo lawyers). From a legal standpoint, this pecuniary damage decreases as the Rays move closer to 2027, which could make an earlier exit more acceptable for the property (I have written extensively on the Rays User Agreement ).

The bottom line is that Sternberg has expressed his intention to partially relocate the Rays in 2028 and not before.

We also know that the MLB will develop from two teams, likely when the Oakland and Tampa Bay situations are resolved.

So that raises the question of why the Montreal group would wait seven years for a half-team when they could get a whole team at the same time (if not earlier) as an expansion? While acquiring a full squad on the same schedule would seemingly be the best option, it’s apparently not for the Montreal group.

And why is that? Logically, this is for one of two reasons: (i) the Montreal group does not want to pay the expansion fee, or (ii) the MLB has told it that it is unlikely that it will get a expansion team. This last reason seems more likely since the Montreal group has its pockets full. So that may explain the group’s strategy. Indeed, if Montreal will not have an expansion team, its pursuit of half the Rays makes perfect sense. Half of something is better than nothing.

This question has not been addressed to date by the Montreal group. If they want strong public support for the twin city concept, this issue needs to be tackled head-on.

2) Why would Sternberg move half the team in 2028 when he could move the entire team in 2028 to another city in the United States and instantly enjoy a substantial increase in the valuation of his franchise?

Sternberg said he was proposing a shared custody deal to save baseball in Tampa. While the sentiment is admirable, it also seems a bit too selfless. So while Sternberg answered this question, skepticism remains.

Typically, owners seek to maximize their return on a team. Stan Kroenke doubled his franchise valuation by moving the Rams to Los Angeles. And that doesn’t even take into account the other significant financial opportunities unique to Los Angeles. This, however, is apparently not a priority for Sternberg. On the contrary, he opts for a rather messy arrangement, while failing to maximize his return on investment, all for the good of the city.

Rather than stating in general terms his loyalty to the city, a detailed answer to this question would go a long way in securing support for the proposal in Tampa Bay.

There is no doubt that Montreal’s pursuit of the Rays is genuine. Nonetheless, it would help if the local group clarified the context surrounding their unprecedented pursuit of the Rays.

As for the Rays, his part-time pursuit of Montreal is more difficult to understand since it does not represent the most financially sound long-term option for the Rays. Indeed, Sternberg’s best financial decision would be to move his team to another US city in 2028 rather than go for an unnecessarily complicated sister city deal. Here it takes more than simple declarations of loyalty to convince the skeptics.

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