The Rays were dealt a major blow Tuesday when MLB rejected its plan to split time between Tampa and Montreal, a project that had been in the works for over two years. Per beat reporter Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the Rays were “stunned” by this decision, anticipating their “split city” proposal would be approved by both the players’ union and MLB.
“We put everything we had into this effort because we truly believed in it,” said Rays president Brian Auld. “And to have the rug pulled out from under us like this is extraordinarily disappointing.”
The Rays had envisioned building open air-stadiums in both cities, but Tuesday’s ruling obviously throws a major wrench in that plan. Without backing from commissioner Rob Manfred, the Rays are left to ponder their future in Tampa with their lease due to expire after 2027. That leaves the Rays little time to approve a new stadium, with development plans needing to be in place by the start of next year to ensure it would be ready for the start of 2028. Despite Tuesday’s setback, principal owner Stuart Sternberg insists he has no plans to sell his controlling stake in the team.
According to Topkin, the Rays had put almost all their eggs in the split city basket, seeing it as the only feasible solution amid pushback from local government with city officials, including Mayor Jane Castor, reluctant to foot the bill for a new stadium, which could cost in excess of $1 billion. Now it’s back to the drawing board for a franchise that, despite consistent on-field success (four straight winning seasons including an American League pennant in 2020), has failed to develop a following in St. Petersburg with Red Sox and Yankees supporters routinely outnumbering Rays fans during home games at Tropicana Field.
A new full-time stadium in Tampa could be a tough sell, with the Rays now likely to consider all options including potentially relocating to a larger market with better facilities. Save for occasional preseason exhibitions, MLB hasn’t had a presence in Montreal since the Expos left to become the Washington Nationals in 2005.