Rays owner says pandemic hasn’t dulled interest in split with Montreal

Stuart Sternberg, principal owner of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball club, speaks during a press conference at the Tampa Baseball Museum, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, in Tampa, Fla., about organization campaign to bring baseball to Tampa from St. Petersburg. (Octavio Jones/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Not even a global pandemic can seemingly shake Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg’s desire to move forward with a dual-city plan to share the MLB club with Montreal.

In an interview with Tampa Bay Times reporter Marc Topkin, Sternberg was emphatic in stating that a delay stemming from the spread of the novel coronavirus has done little to change his mind on the plan that would see regular-season baseball return to the former home of the Expos, nor has it caused him to reconsider a full-time future for the Rays in Tampa.

“At this point, I’m not entertaining that at all,” said Sternberg, per Topkin.

Sternberg said the COVID-19 pandemic slowed but didn’t halt work on the Montreal plan, which would see new open-air stadiums built in both markets and the Rays split seasons by 2028, if not earlier, once the Rays’ current lease at Tropicana Field expires. However, previous efforts aimed at accelerating the plan have been rebuffed by city officials in St. Petersburg.

The Rays principal owner and the group in Canada, headed by prospective partner Stephen Bronfman, have reportedly remained in contact and are making progress, including the opening of talks with Tampa officials on a new part-time stadium.

Despite the delay, Sternberg said COVID-19 has done nothing to dull his interest in the dual-city plan.

“Just the opposite, as it’s become more important not to be reliant on one place and one market,” he said, according to Topkin.

“Also, that the abbreviated season will provide a bit of test case in assessing fan interest in a limited number of games and by TV watching/radio listening the only options. I still think people will gravitate to and support the team, especially if we’re doing well on the field.”

In February, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told Sportsnet‘s Shi Davidi that if Sternberg’s plan hits a snag, it doesn’t end the chances for a second Canadian team.

“Montreal could be a standalone market. It could be,” Manfred said. “I think the judgment you have to make if you’re Montreal is, if and when we’re going to 32, and you have an opportunity to have some baseball here, it might be a good plan. They have to make that judgment.”

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