The clock is ticking in Tampa Bay

In mid-December, the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they would no longer be seeking a new stadium in Ybor City. The club also announced that they were terminating the negotiating window, built into their current lease, for a new stadium in the Tampa area…the clock is now ticking on a potential relocation.

The location of Tropicana Field has put the Rays in a bind with attendance; despite consistent winning seasons and multiple playoff appearances over the last decade. Not located near any major downtown area, the ballpark can be a bit of a bear to get to. This has also led to a lack of corporate sponsorship and corporate season ticket holders that are the back bone of any season ticket drive. It’s put the team in a financial bind that’s left it in a lurch when it comes to fundraising for a new stadium in its current location; which is why they’ve struggled to secure new stadium deals.

Most notably, the Ybor City deal fell apart because of a lack of specifics on where the public and private money would come from to build the ball park, or improve the infrastructure in the area. It appears a lack of communication between government officials and the franchise also seems to have hampered the negotiations, as demonstrated in commissioner Rob Manfred’s response to a county official.

Neither side appears to have the will to invest enough capital to make a stadium deal happen in the Tampa area; which means that a third party could enter the picture and that’s where the son of a former Expos’ owner enters the picture.

Stephen Bronfman, son of former Expos’ owner Charles Bronfman, has an investment group that is reportedly seeking a deal that would have the Rays playing a “portion of their home games” in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium (according to La Presse). This would be similar to how the original Expos played a portion of their home schedule in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2003 and 2004 prior to their relocation to Washington D.C. It would give the fans in Montreal to show how much they’ve missed baseball and want a professional team back after a 14-year absence.

What makes the report in La Presse interesting is that Tampa’s lease in the Trop gives them the ability to up to ten home games outside of Tropicana; here’s the relevant text.

For purposes of this MOU, “Excused Games” means those Home Games that are not played due to a Force Majeure Event; and up to ten (10) Home Games per MLB season played at a facility that is not located in Pinellas or Hillsborough.

Thanks to our friends at DRays Bay for digging through the lease to find that text. This provision of the MOU does not have a close date, like the negotiating window for a new ballpark, so it’s entirely possible that the Rays could take advantage of this to play some games north of the border.

It seems like we’re moving ever closer to the Rays leaving Tampa, and it feels like they’re beginning to make business connections with Montreal that could make that city their top target.

The clock is ticking in Tampa Bay, how much longer do we have before this franchise is on the move? Only time will tell.