With the lowest attendance in the American League for the 9th season in a row, the Tampa Bay Rays are looking to make some major changes to improve on revenue. Tampa Bay is willing to do anything to increase fan interest in the team.
The fact of the matter is that the Florida baseball market is not profitable. The lack of popularity has shown in both Tampa Bay and down in South Beach with the Miami Marlins. Both teams had the least number of fans show up to their home games in 2019.
This trend is also present in the NFL with the three Florida teams being in the bottom half of the league in attendance last season. However, in leagues such as the NBA and NHL, popular franchises such as the Miami Heat and Tampa Bay Lightning have proven sports teams in this state can be financially successful.
The Rays organization is thinking outside the box in an attempt to raise popularity by proposing a mid-season change to Montreal. They want to become the first team since the Expos in 2003 (22 home games in Puerto Rico), to split their season in two locations.
Moving the team to Montreal for half the season would be a very significant change for the entire fanbase as a whole. It would be a difficult situation for Tampa Bay fans as they would have to adjust to losing their team for the latter half of the season.
The Rays are planning for the team to play in Tampa Bay until June, and then play out the rest of their season in Montreal. Of course fans of the team reacted with displeasure once they heard this, as they would be losing the team for not only the summer months, but potential postseason play too.
Yet despite some of the backlash that this proposal has gotten, it is a good idea for Rays organization to try something new.
When this team is bad, they are unable to attract fans, which is understandable; however, even when they are playing well and in the hunt for a playoff spot, people still do not come to their games. Back in the Rays hay day from 2008-2013, they had four postseason appearances including a trip to the World Series in 2008 and the team still floundered at the bottom of league in attendance.
Over the last two seasons, the Rays have had 90 and 96 wins, but still struggled to surpass an average attendance of 15,000 people. It is clearly not the play of the team that is affecting the popularity of the them, but is Montreal really the answer?
Tampa Bay is contractually obligated to play at Tropicana Field until the year 2027, which is why they are considering the split season rather than a full city change. However, there are many holes in this potential experiment in Montreal.
For starters, Montreal was the last city to lose a major league franchise when the Montreal Expos left to become the Washington Nationals in 2005. The reason this transaction happened was the same reason the Rays want to move being attendance. From 1998 to the year the Expos left in 2004, they ranked dead last in the entire MLB in attendance by a fairly significant margin.
This is not a place that will embrace baseball. The team needs to stay relatively close to the east coast because of their division, but ideally, the organization should be looking for a stronger baseball market.
Some possible locations that may be a better fit are New Orleans, Charlotte, and Memphis as they are cities without a baseball team and may show more support for a team than a city that has already lost a team from lack of interest. Logically, it just does not make much sense to move to a weak baseball market like Montreal.
On the flip side, the country of Canada has shown that they do support their sports teams especially of late. The other baseball team in Canada, in the Toronto Blue Jays, have shown that when they are competitive, people become willing to watch them, as they rank top five in the AL in attendance in 2015, 2016 (Their last two playoff appearances).
What is even more impressive is how the basketball team has fared, as the Toronto Raptors have been top five in attendance in the NBA every year since 2015. This Canadian market has shown that sports teams can thrive when relevant.
This is a major if because Montreal has a different atmosphere compared to Toronto, but there is a chance that the city can learn to appreciate baseball again after losing it for the last 15 seasons.
Despite these facts, the split season proposal still seems like a stretch. Assuming the experiment ends up being financially viable, then everyone should expect the team to move to Montreal full time in 2027. This is because it is highly unlikely that anyone in Tampa Bay would be on board with this idea, and if this move were to produce positive revenue, there would be no reason for the franchise to stay in Tampa Bay.
Though according to the Tampa Bay Times, the baseball players union is not even fully on-board with the proposal. Executive Director Tony Clark explained how the logistics of the situation would be difficult to cope with considering the financial and familial problems that would arise with this change.
Players and coaches would need to deal with the ordeal of having multiple long-term living spaces not to mention they would have to adjust to living in another country part-time. Clark elaborated on how they approved the proposal, but the situation is not going to be great for either side if the team proceeds with it.
There are so many variables when it comes to this very unorthodox situation. From the team’s overall well-being to the high-risk financial aspect. Also, most fans on either side of the spectrum are going to feel they are getting the short end of the stick with Montreal unable to see the team early and Tampa unable to watch them down the stretch.
What the Rays should try to do is improve the in-game experience. Tropicana Field is widely regarded as one of the worst ballparks in baseball, as it is dated with its design, not the most attractive looking field, and there is not much to do there other than watch the game.
Lots of the newer ballparks built within the last decade or two are much more fan friendly and give them lots of options and experiences when they are not watching the game.
The team also has the option to build a new stadium or straight up move to another city. Finding a new location in a bigger market will definitely yield better profits than what the organization is collecting now. However, splitting the season is not going to fix anything for the franchise.
Montreal is not a baseball city and dealing with the hecticness of being in two places during the season, along with all the other travel the team sustains, is just too much.
If you are the Rays organization, stay put. Moving to Montreal will not solve any problems when it comes to increasing revenue, and with the team not committing to either city, both parties fan bases may feel the team is not worth fully investing in. The only thing this proposal says is “chaos ahead”.