Montreal hasn’t played host to a Major League Baseball team since the Expos moved to Washington, D.C. after the 2004 season. But a bold plan from the Tampa Bay Rays could see at least some games come back to the Canadian city.

Tampa Bay Rays Montreal
The Tampa Bay Rays have received permission from MLB officials to explore a plan that would see them play some home games in Montreal. (Image: Chris O’Meara/AP)

The Rays have received baseball from the league’s executive council to explore a plan that would see the franchise play its early season home games in Tampa Bay, then spend the rest of the year in Montreal.

Tampa Bay Looking for Larger Market

The plan would require both cities to build new stadiums. So far, there has not been a proposal as to how many games would be played in each location. By keeping the early season games in Florida but putting later games in Montreal, the hope is that neither stadium would require a dome, saving money on construction.

While the Rays are having a successful season – they currently sit 4.5 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East with a 43-32 record – that hasn’t translated into a boost in attendance. The team averages just 14,546 fans per home game, second to the rebuilding Miami Marlins for the lowest total among MLB teams.

That means that there has been speculation that the Rays could eventually want to move out of Tampa Bay, preferably to a larger market with a better television deal. In that context, the dual city plan could be seen as a way to keep baseball in the city.

“My priority remains the same, I am committed to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come,” Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement. “I believe this concept is worthy of serious exploration.”

St. Petersburg Mayor: Plan is ‘Silly’

The unusual arrangement won’t be going into effect anytime soon, if it ever does at all. The Rays have a lease with St. Petersburg – where Tropicana Field is located – through the 2027 season, and there’s no indication that the city has any intention of letting the franchise out of that agreement.

“Ultimately, such a decision is up to me,” St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman said in a statement. “And I have no intention of bringing this latest idea to our city council to consider. In fact, I believe this is getting a bit silly.”

The mayor expanding on his thoughts on a local radio show, saying that allowing the team to leave the city could be disastrous for the local economy.

“I’ve always felt that this team is a regional asset,” Kriseman said. “The impact on our city and our region as a whole is very different if they go to some other city other than the Tampa Bay area. We’re talking about hundreds of millions more in potential damages.”

There’s also the question of just how much better the team might do with fans in Montreal. While the return of an MLB team would undoubtedly create initial excitement, it’s important to note that the Expos were last in attendance in the league during each of their final seven years in Montreal.

For now, the Rays are a legitimate contender with or without the support of a large local fan base. According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Rays are a +2000 pick to win the World Series in 2019.