The Tampa Bay Rays have been granted permission by Major League Baseball executives to explore the possibility of splitting their future home games between the Tampa region and Montreal, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced Thursday.
The proposal, in which the Rays would reportedly play the first half of their season in Florida and then transition to Montreal for the latter half, is in its infancy and would require cooperation from both government and team officials.
“There is no commitment on the part of the owners to ultimately approve a plan,” Manfred said. “The permission that was granted was simply a permission to explore this alternative in an effort to strengthen a franchise that has performed great on the field but continues to be pretty limited from an economic perspective.” He added that the team’s ultimate goal is to keep their presence known in Tampa while gaining an economic boost from playing some games in a baseball-starved market.
Montreal was last home to an MLB team 15 years ago. The Montreal Expos kept baseball in the area from 1969 through 2004 before relocating to Washington as the Nationals. Since then, the city has annually hosted two spring training games at Olympic Stadium that have typically drawn in moderate crowds of around 24,000.
Filling seats in Montreal would reverse the Rays’ struggle to bring in sizable crowds. Tampa Bay’s attendance is among the lowest in the league, averaging roughly 14, 500 patrons per game. Tropicana Field, their home park since 1990, can hold as many as 42,000.
Rays owner Stu Sternberg offered his support for the dual-city proposal. “My priority remains the same, I am committed to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come,” he said in a statement. “I believe this concept is worthy of serious exploration.”
The potential to split does however come with a number of obstacles for the Rays. Perhaps the most glaring one being their seal of approval from St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman, who dismissed the idea shortly after it was announced.
“I have no intention of bringing this idea to our city council to consider,” he said in a press conference. “This is just the latest chapter in the book of negotiations. I believe this is getting a bit silly.”
For now, the Rays will continue to slug away at Tropicana Field, which they are contracted to lease through 2027. They currently stand second in the AL East at 43-32.