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Montreal group leader: Rays plan ‘is real,’ details to be set in 2020

Stephen Bronfman also said of the in-season move: Montreal is a "much nicer city to be in than St. Petersburg, please.''
Stephen Bronfman, head of the Montreal group working with the Rays to split future seasons with Tampa Bay, said Thursday that details of the plan will emerge in 2020.
Stephen Bronfman, head of the Montreal group working with the Rays to split future seasons with Tampa Bay, said Thursday that details of the plan will emerge in 2020. [ MARIO BEAUREGARD/JOURNAL DE MONTREAL | MARIO BEAUREGARD/JOURNAL DE MONT ]
Published Feb. 7, 2020
Updated Feb. 8, 2020

Following Thursday’s strong endorsement of the Rays two-city idea from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, the leader of the Montreal effort said he is confident the plan will be implemented and is aiming to have details worked out by the end of 2020.

"This is real,'' Stephen Bronfman told Montreal sports radio station CKGM-690 host Mitch Melnick on Thursday night. "This is the year we’re going to prove this thing out.''

Bronfman also took a mild swipe at the Rays’ current, and potential future part-time home, when asked how they’d expect the players union to agree to the plan to spend the first part of the season in Florida and then move north.

"Say the shift (to Montreal) happens second week of June, mid-June,'' Bronfman said. "School season is over. Family moves up, they move to Montreal for the summer. Wives are happy. Much nicer city to be in than St. Petersburg, please. Much more cosmopolitan. Much more fun.''

Related: Listen to Stephen Bronfman on Mitch Melnick's Montreal radio show

Bronfman also indicated, as the Rays have, that the sharing plan is not part of a larger plot to move the team to Montreal full time, nor for principal owner Stu Sternberg to divest himself of the team.

"Stu is a heartful guy, a mindful guy,'' Bronfman said. "He loves baseball. He does not want to sell the team though he knows he could make money doing that. He does not want to take the team out of a marketplace that he’s invested 14 years of heart and soul in trying to make it work. But he knows that in present, in the present situation, it doesn’t work.

"But he knows in his heart of hearts that by splitting and by taking two markets into one that he can make it work. And that's what we're going to prove out.''

The plan is complex, including building new open-air stadiums in both markets, and myriad approvals. The timeline to get it all lined up by the end of 2020 sounds optimistic and, perhaps curiously, aggressive given the Rays, at least currently, can't start playing anywhere else until 2028, following the expiration of their contract at Tropicana Field.

"This is a work in progress in both places,'' Bronfman said. "We have a lot of balls up in the air. We have a lot of issues here in Montreal. We don't have our land (for a stadium) yet. ... We have lots of things going on at once. That's what makes it exciting and fun and interesting as well. To have a lot of these balls land back in your hand, or back in your glove, and get this thing done, nailed and sort of wrapped up and ready to go, and I think we can do it this year. ...

"We put a timeline together and we've got a pretty tight and intense schedule. That's the goal, to have something we can present and have all the approvals done hopefully in the next year.''

Rays president Matt Silverman, appearing on WDAE-AM on Friday morning, also said 2020 will be a big year in the process. Silverman reiterated that the Montreal plan is the Rays’ sole focus for a new home, they are having many conversations with area officials about it, and they will consider many locations, including the current Trop site, for the open-air stadium.

Though the Rays roster would likely turnover before the plan were to be implemented under even an accelerated timetable, Bronfman said Sternberg is "working his players'' to get them to see that under the plan the team will have more revenues and thus a bigger payroll budget and be more competitive.

Related: A peek into the St. Petersburg's negotiations with the Rays

Bronfman said Manfred’s comments to the Tampa Bay Times about the two-city plan being the “100 percent” best way to keep a team in the Tampa Bay market were welcomed.

"It’s just more exciting news, it’s more positivity in our camp, in both camps,'' he said. "Guys from Tampa and ourselves, we’re all in and we’re working diligently to prove this out. Rob Manfred is really putting himself out there and selling this, and he and Stu have been doing an excellent job with not only the executives in Major League Baseball but also the owners. And this is the year we’re going to prove this thing out.''

Is Bronfman really sure the complex plan is going to be approved and implemented?

"Honestly, am I 100 percent sure this is going to happen? I’m 100 percent sure that we’re trying our darnedest to make it happen.''

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.