By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Tampa Bay Rays, despite generally being much more successful than their payroll dictates they should be, continue to struggle to really capture the attention and devotion of local fans. They’re drawing an average crowd of 14,545 this season, despite sitting in second place in the AL East. They draw the second-smallest crowds in MLB, just as they did a year ago. In 2017, they ranked dead last in attendance.
It’s a real problem for the Rays, and it’s nothing new. But fear not, because there may be a solution on the way.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Thursday that, in an effort geared toward “saving baseball in the Tampa Bay area,” the Rays are now … exploring the idea of moving baseball out of the Tampa Bay area for most of the year.
Passan reported that MLB’s executive council has granted permission for the Rays to explore the possibility of becoming a two-city team, with home games early in the season in Tampa, and home games the rest of the year in Montreal.
If it sounds on its surface to be a terrible idea, that’s because, well, it is. If the interest in Rays baseball in the Tampa area is not enough to draw fans to the building, then giving them a mid-May expiration date in Florida would surely only work to lessen that enthusiasm. Tampa would essentially become the extended spring training home of the Montreal Rays, which sounds like a rather poor way to “save” baseball in Tampa.
At the same time, Passan noted that if the two-city plan fails to come to fruition, then the Rays might really start getting serious consideration for relocation.
“Among the difficulty in securing a new stadium, a paucity of local revenue and a poor local-television deal, the Rays have been seen by other cities as a target for relocation — a possibility, should the Tampa Bay-Montreal plan fail,” Passan explained.
In that sense, perhaps building a new Tampa stadium and using it as a two-month home for the Rays to get their season started would be a preferred alternative to losing the team altogether. But, also, perhaps not.
If the Montreal market is indeed ready to welcome back baseball for the first time since losing the Expos since 2004 (a worthwhile question in its own right), then it would likely make more sense to go all in. For the time being, it would make sense that interested Montreal parties would explore this possibility, but from a Tampa perspective? If the goal is to “save baseball” in Tampa, then the goal ought to be to save baseball in Tampa. Outsourcing the bulk of the season to another city just sounds like a slow and painful way for a franchise to die.