If Montreal wants a baseball team, it will have to ante up for a new stadium says Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Speaking to The Canadian Press on Monday, the commissioner explained, “The key thing in Montreal would be to have a plan for an adequate facility that could support baseball over the long haul…. I don’t expect people to go into the ground and build a facility without some sort of commitment that they are going to get a team. But I do think that you need a plan, and a commitment to how that plan is going to be executed.”
Why Montreal would need a new stadium was left unanswered. Olympic Stadium, which holds 45,757 fans when utilized for baseball, would feature the 10th-largest seating capacity in MLB should a team move there. But its multipurpose design strikes as something out of the seventies, a dated look long since abandoned by clubs in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia. The Montreal Expos played in Olympic Stadium starting in 1977 until they moved to become the Washington Nationals after the 2004 season.
Expos attendance dwindled to less than a million spectators for the last seven years of their existence, but when the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays played exhibition games in March 2014, the stadium drew almost 100,000 fans for the two games.
Manfred admitted, “The exhibition games last year, and how well they were attended and at least the early reports on the games this year demonstrate a real interest in Major League Baseball and the Montreal market. We find that to be very interesting and exciting.”
“The games like those exhibition games in new markets are important as an initial test of the level of interest that the market has in the game,” he said. “When you have the kind of success you’ve had in Montreal you kind of pass the first initial test of whether it’s a market that could support baseball.”
In order for a team to exist in Montreal, an existing team will have to move there. Manfred said MLB will not expand in the near-future. Yet it is clearly apparent Montreal loves baseball; two exhibition games scheduled for early April between Toronto and Cincinnati have sold over 80,000 tickets.
Manfred seemed reluctant to urge any existing team to move, even those with financial woes, such as Tampa Bay and Oakland, though he acknowledged that “we have always been realistic. At the end of the day, relocation to another market could be the only solution.”
Rumors have been flying that Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg might move his team to Montreal. He was reportedly consulting his Wall Street friends about such a move. Sternberg wanted to move to Tampa, if a new stadium could be built, but Tampa has struggled with economics.
Manfred hinted at which direction MLB would look for a future expansion, saying, “Mexico and Canada present the most fertile ground just in terms of the level of baseball interest and the proximity to our existing franchises.”