The Tampa Bay Rays' intention to explore the possibility of holding home games in the Tampa area during temperate spring months and for the remainder of the season in baseball-starved Montreal drew a reaction that can best be summed up in one word.
That is a reasonable question. There are plenty more of those. Here are a dozen that explain what makes the Rays' plan not nearly as crazy as it may sound -- and the roadblocks standing in the way.
How likely is this to actually happen?
Put it this way: A few hours after the news broke that Major League Baseball's executive council granted permission to the Rays to pursue a two-city solution, St. Petersburg, Florida, mayor Rick Kriseman said he would not grant the team permission to discuss any proposal with Montreal. The Rays' lease with Tropicana Field, which is located in St. Petersburg, runs through 2027. "This is getting a bit silly," Kriseman said.
So, clearly, the deal is dead, right? Of course not. Kriseman is doing the exact same thing the Rays did when they pursued the idea in the first place: trying to secure the best deal. For more than a decade, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has sought a new stadium deal from St. Petersburg, then Tampa, to replace the domed monstrosity that is the Trop. The efforts have failed.
Sharing the Rays isn't the nuclear option. That would be Sternberg announcing his intentions to relocate and trying to negotiate a way out of the lease. But this is clearly a warning -- the Rays are running out of patience, and with attendance still low despite on-field success, they believe the path to viability in the Tampa Bay area must include a new stadium. If that's in concert with a second new stadium in Montreal, it would put a significant dent in the Rays' local-revenue issues and leave other markets open for expansion.
Put it this way: If this were truly a pure leverage play, with Tampa Bay using the threat of a move as a cudgel, would MLB owners allow a potential expansion city to be straight-up used and run the risk of incensing it? Because that is in play here for Montreal if the Rays turn around, negotiate with entities in the Tampa Bay area and leave behind Stephen Bronfman and Mitch Garber, both deep-pocketed, well-connected men who desperately want baseball back in Montreal. With potential billion-dollar expansion fees at play, the last thing MLB wants to do is alienate whales who might be willing to pay it.
Why is this a good plan?
The Tampa Bay area would not lose big league baseball and Montreal would gain it. That's the very simple answer.
If the Rays are not posturing -- and again, feigning interest like this would be an awfully dangerous play for a very disciplined ownership and front office group -- then both fan bases wind up in better scenarios. Rays fans wouldn't need to go to the Trop and would have the assurance of the team having a long-term lease in place, and Montreal would have baseball for the first time since the Expos left in 2005 as well as the security that the team wouldn't leave again.
In Montreal, the Rays would find something they've longed for: a loving, fully embracing fan base. And while the concept of dual-city teams is (almost) entirely foreign, the idea of fans loving a team any less because it's not present as much doesn't compute. Montreal craves baseball. This is baseball. The city is not going to reject the Rays because they play half their games elsewhere.
Now, it's possible the Tampa Bay area doesn't want the Rays. The attendance is crummy, even when the team isn't. But it's difficult to believe that a metropolitan area as big as the Tampa Bay area would allow one of 30 teams to slip away. And that's at stake here.
What are the roadblocks?
There are plenty. All have feasible solutions that sound reasonable. Combined, though, they make the two-city solution complicated and fragile.
(1) Getting a stadium in Montreal: This is pretty far down the road. While it's not checked off the list, a potential partnership between the Rays and the Bronfman-Garber consortium is natural.
(2) Settling on a site for a stadium in the Tampa area: This has not been easy. Politicians also might not want to be the ones who let baseball leave town.
(3) Securing funding for a stadium in the Tampa area: This wouldn't be easy, either. Politicians also might not want to be the ones who let baseball leave town.
(4) Convincing the other 29 owners it is the right plan: Getting a group of billionaires on board takes plenty of work -- particularly when some of those billionaires' businesses can be impacted by yours.
(5) Solving the territorial-rights question: Is Toronto really going to let a division rival waltz right in and monopolize the country's second-largest city and, really, an entire province?
(6) Placating the players: The Rays are tired of playing in front of empty crowds at the Trop ... but are they tired enough to move midseason and pay significantly higher taxes?
(7) Selling the fans: We know what we know, and when something comes along that we don't know, it's scary.
So ... each city gets 40 games or so?
It's too early in the process to know what sort of a split would satisfy all parties. Part of the allure of sharing teams, sources said, would be taking advantage of the cities' contrasting climates. By June, average high temperatures in the Tampa area tend to climb to about 90 degrees. Avoiding similar temperatures in July, August and early September would allow a domeless stadium in the Tampa Bay area -- something that would significantly lessen costs on a stadium that could have a price tag upward of $1 billion. One potential proposal includes a soccer-style stadium, with a smaller capacity that could bring costs down to near $600 million.
Average temperatures in Montreal, on the other hand, top out around 80 degrees, even in the summer months, before dipping in mid-September. Schedule makers could theoretically go home-heavy with the Rays in the season's first half, giving the Tampa Bay area a chance to pack in Florida home games before the team migrates to Canada in June.
Why would a city build a new stadium to have a team for a partial season?
This is the multi-hundred-million-dollar question. For Montreal, the answer is fairly clear: Bronfman and Garber, who have been at the forefront of the efforts to bring baseball back to Montreal, support the split-team concept. They have secured a potential site for a stadium. They are not wedded to the idea that a baseball team must have 81 home games. While the Montreal market showed an ability to support that when Bronfman's father, Charles, owned the Expos, there is an argument that a finite number of games at an optimal time of year could juice interest.
Selling St. Petersburg, Tampa or wherever the Rays try to find a new stadium in their current metropolitan area on this seems the far more daunting task. The Rays continue to seek public money to build a new stadium in Florida, and even if the supply-and-demand play above happens to work and creates more per-game revenue for the Rays, they haven't been able to get a stadium built for 81 games. Will a city really accede with half the dates?
That's a reasonable question. It also may be secondary to another: Is the Tampa Bay area willing to let its MLB team leave?
When could this happen?
Realistically? Not particularly soon. It has taken the Rays more than a decade to reach this point because of failed stadium negotiations ... and they still would need to receive a commitment to build a stadium, not to mention wiggle out of their current stadium deal. They also would need to ensure that Montreal's half came to fruition. Not to mention all of the other potential pitfalls.
One source said 2023 is the earliest target date, though 2024 would be more realistic. And that's if everything falls into place.
How would TV rights work?
Quite well for the Rays, one would think, because they would get the benefit of multiple TV markets. The reality isn't nearly as clean: As much of a threat as the stadium situation in the Tampa Bay area is to the plan's viability, the territorial-rights issue is potentially menacing, too.
In baseball, every team is assigned a specific area to which it owns the rights to broadcast. When the Expos left, all of Canada became the Blue Jays' territory. No baseball team controls as large of an area as the Blue Jays. Teams guard their territories fiercely.
Look at what happened when the Expos moved. Even though the Nationals were in a different league, their fight with the Baltimore Orioles over television revenue continues years after it started. Not only would the Rays be encroaching on Toronto's territory, the teams both play in the American League East.
There are ways around this impediment, of course. Lots and lots and lots of loonies and toonies.
Has anybody ever tried this before?
Actually, yes. In 2003 and 2004, the Montreal Expos played 22 games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In the early 1970s, the NBA's Kings split home games between Kansas City, Missouri, and Omaha, Nebraska. Even the White Sox took a nine-game-a-year sojourn to Milwaukee for a couple of years before the Brewers moved to town.
But something like this? Two cities, more than 1,300 miles apart, in different countries, no less? No. Definitely not for half a season.
Would the Rays actually be able to spend money on players?
Well, certainly more than they do now. The Rays' opening-day payroll was somewhere in the $65 million range, among the lowest in baseball. The reason is not just the 14,546 fans per game they draw at the Trop -- the second-lowest average in the major leagues. The Rays missed the local-television-contract boom that enriched a handful of smaller-market teams when they re-upped their deals recently.
Montreal wouldn't turn the Rays into the Yankees or Red Sox, but it would offer a robust corporate base and a rabid group of fans frothing for the return of baseball and presumably giddy to buy season tickets. No longer would the Rays have any reason to operate on the cheap.
Who would host postseason games?
In their 36-year history, the Expos made the playoffs once. In the Rays' 22-year history, they have made the playoffs four times -- and gotten out of the first round once. Let's not get ahead of ourselves now.
(The real answer, according to a source: "If they can get a deal like this done, that will be a very first-world problem.")
What would it mean for the players and their families?
Retired closer Brad Ziegler said it would never work. So did Amanda McCarthy, the wife of longtime pitcher Brandon McCarthy. Kaycee Sogard, whose husband, Eric, plays for the Blue Jays, said: "This is what baseball-wife nightmares are made of."
Polarizing as the two-city solution is writ large, it might bring out the biggest chasm among those directly affected by it. That said: It's not an impossible sell for players. Greater revenues would lead to the team spending more money. More money spent on players is good for players. And if it takes a little extra to help make the inconvenience of an in-season move more palatable, well, as one veteran player who was open to playing for a two-city team said Thursday: "Money always solves problems in this game."
A few other pluses: Montreal is widely recognized as an incredible city -- one that players would love to play in. The Rays are very good now and have one of the two best farm systems in baseball, meaning they're likely to be good for a long, long time.
But, yeah. It's true. Some players would automatically -- and understandably -- not be willing to play for the ... uh ... the ... hold on. This team doesn't have a name.
Seriously, man. Enough with the details. Here's what the world really wants to know: What would this shared team be named?
That's the sort of question to be answered after dealing with the political brawling and stadium-funding fights and union approval and myriad other topics of far greater import.
The Tampa Bay Rays of Montreal isn't bad. The Snowbirds would work, and the logo potential is off the charts. The Tampa Bay Ehs is pretty inspired. (Thanks to @CespedesBBQ for collecting these.)
But if they're not nicknamed the Ex-Rays, it will constitute the greatest missed opportunity for a truly perfect portmanteau in the history of the English language.