The Tampa Bay Rays got eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in Major League Baseball’s American League Division Series last week, but some of the major headlines involving the team have to do with where the team will be located. The Rays have been one of the most successful MLB teams these past two seasons. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Tampa Bay led the American League with 40 wins and made it all the way to the World Series where they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers. After trading away their star pitcher Blake Snell and letting another important starting pitcher Charlie Morton leave in free agency, the Rays were expected to regress this season but instead paced the AL with 100 wins.
Like most all other franchises, during the 2020 season the coronavirus pandemic led to the Rays playing their home games with no fans in the stands. When the 2021 season started, fans were allowed to return to Tropicana Field. But for a team in a highly populated state like Florida and one that had just fell short of a championship the season prior, the Rays were not able to fill up the stands. They averaged only 9,396 fans per game, 14th out of the 15 American League teams. When a team plays as well as the Rays have over these past few seasons and the attendance numbers don’t correlate it means the team may not be in the right market for their sport. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg seems to agree.
It has been rumored since 2017 that the Rays have been considering a split-city approach where they would play about half of their home games in Tampa Bay while the other half would be played in Montreal, Canada. Montreal used to have their own MLB team, the Montreal Expos, from 1969 to 2004. The Expos were highly popular in Montreal and were one of two Canadian MLB teams for most of their existence along with the Toronto Blue Jays when they were created in 1974. The Expos moved to Washington, DC in 2005 and became the current team the Washington Nationals.
Sternberg believes that the split city approach is the only feasible way for the Rays to continue to make money while posting low attendance numbers. The team’s low attendance has led the Rays to have one of the smallest roster salaries in the league and the team usually can’t compete for the major free agents or have a fighting chance to keep their current stars each offseason with the bigger market clubs due to their lack of revenue. Sternberg believes the split city approach would allow the Rays to profit off of the baseball community that is in Canada and the Montreal area from the days of the Expos while also keeping a fanbase in Tampa Bay. With the Blue Jays being the only team in Canada, the Rays would become the most local team for many MLB fans in Canada. In addition, Tampa Bay local officials have not negotiated with Sternberg to give the Rays a new stadium. Tropicana Field is considered by many to be one of the worst stadiums in the league. Sternberg is hoping that this split city approach, or at least the rumors of it, will lead to the Rays being a more profitable organization so Sternberg can pay more money for players to keep the Rays contenders for many years to come.
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