Have you heard the rumors aswirl that major-league baseball might be returning to Montreal?
It’s exciting, and a number of circumstances actually make it believable. But don’t start saving up for your half-season ticket just yet.
The two Florida teams in Major League Baseball are enduring hard times, in terms of attendance and finances. The Tampa Bay Rays, currently in second place in the American League East – behind only the Yankees but ahead of the Red Sox – are said to be considering playing part of their season in Montreal.
The Rays, in spite of their on-field success, draw only 14,546 fans per game. MLB has established protocols that don’t require high attendance to ensure financial prosperity, but, even so, that figure is embarrassingly low. Only the Miami Marlins are more anemic in that department in all of baseball.
Montreal remembers what that is like. After rising to the top echelon of baseball performance in the mid 1990s in its first MLB incarnation as the Expos, poor management drained fan interest.
Created in 1969, the Expos fell from their pinnacle to their nadir by 2001, drawing only about 8,000 per game at a creaky Olympic Stadium before escaping to become the Washington Nationals in 2005.
But Montreal has remained a relocation or expansion option for Major League Baseball, even though it’s widely regarded as a hockey city. More than 50,000 spectators fill the Big O every spring to watch a late-spring-training game.
A new stadium would be required, as the old home is dilapidated and poorly situated.
But Montreal has burgeoned in the past two decades, economically and in other ways. Once thought of as a somewhat bleak metropolis – second biggest in Canada behind only Toronto – it is now brimming with wealth and prospects as bright as the renovated streetscapes indicate.
It wants baseball back and can now probably support it, in spite of hockey’s Canadiens.
And Tampa Bay needs help. The Rays, christened in 1998, have drawn only 62.9 percent of the average major-league attendance in their time. (The Expos, in theirs, drew 76.2 percent.)
The Rays have drawn 75 percent of major-league average attendance only three times. The Expos did in 17 of their 36 years.
So Montreal is almost certain to improve the Rays’ outlook for a devoted fan base, if the owners and league power brokers can devise and negotiate some way for Tampa Bay and Montreal to share a team.
But can the Rays thrive as a two-city team? Can Tampa Bay abide such an arrangement? Can Florida fans remain wed to a team that will move out partway through the season and celebrate any achievements way up north?
Major League Baseball is going to have to answer a lot of these questions, and it might turn out that this is not the best idea ever.
But at least it could be a chance for Montreal to get its foot back in the Major League Baseball door.
Through Allegiant, Plattsburgh International Airport offers direct inexpensive flights to the Tampa area and back that are extremely popular with Montrealers.
A smart airline marketing play could be to offer special "baseball package" deals on flights.
So who knows, a shared team could turn out to be a perfect fit for fans of both cities.