The city of Montreal has been without professional baseball for nine years now, but that doesn't mean it is gone forever. A recent study spearheaded by the Montreal Baseball Project has found that it could be financially viable to bring Major League Baseball back to the city if a new stadium is built in downtown, reports the Montreal Gazette.
The study, launched last March, has found through local polling and analyses that the best way to get MLB to return to Montreal is by building a new stadium downtown and acquiring an existing club. Assuming a modest payroll, league-average ticket prices and a local TV broadcasting deal in line with similar markets, the study determined that a baseball club could once again turn a profit in Montreal.
The report estimates that project of that magnitude would cost $1.025 billion -- about $525 million to get a team and $500 million for a new park -- which it proposes could be raised through a combination of public and private funds.
While there's a vast chasm between determining an effort like this is viable and actually employing it, the founder of the Montreal Baseball Project, former Expos left fielder/first baseman Warren Cromartie, appears ready to take that next step:
"Needless to say, I’m very pleased with the feasibility study ... At this part of the journey to bring Major League Baseball back, my next step is to find myself a champion.
"We need champions or a champion to make this happen. A champion with passion. A champion with integrity. A champion with assets because we can’t get it done without it."
It's anyone's guess where (or if) Cromartie will find his champion, but there's reason to believe that the perfect team for the project already exists -- the Tampa Bay Rays.
Agent Scott Boras seems to think the Rays would be a good fit in Montreal, iterating at the Winter Meetings Wednesday that the city would be a "tremendous environment" for baseball, per Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune:
"I remember in ’94, when you go back and look at [Montreal's] attendance rates and the market, the people and the Canadian rivalry, I really thought baseball was in a good place,"
"The players enjoyed playing there. It’s a beautiful city."
The Rays are locked into their stadium lease at Tropicana Field through 2027 and, despite being competitive, drew a league-worst 18,646 fans per game this season. Tampa Bay has made attempts work out a new deal with St. Petersburg officials, but the city has been steadfast in its stance that it will not allow the team to up and leave.
Things have gotten so bad between St. Pete and the Rays that MLB has decided to step in and help with coming to some sort of solution. It's unclear if moving out of town will be one of the possibilities on the table -- it certainly hasn't been to this point -- but Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has at least alluded to someone helping buy out their lease.
Sternberg, via Jon Morosi of Fox Sports:
"If I walked in and said, ‘Here’s $12 billion. Can you let us out of the lease?’ I think they’ll probably say OK. If I say, ‘Here’s a dollar. I want to leave in five years,’ they’re probably not going to say OK...."
So far as the specifications for a new stadium in Montreal, the study found that the best option would be to go away from Olympic Stadium dome model and draw up a 36,000-seat open-air park, a la Target Field in Minnesota.
For now, Montrealers will just have to sate their appetite for baseball with exhibition games. The Blue Jays and Mets will play a pair of games at the Expos' old stomping grounds on March 28-29, right before the start of the 2014 regular season. Those two games will be the first pro ball played in Montreal since 2004, when the Expos transformed into the Washington Nationals.