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First step in Rays’ sister city plan? Getting territorial rights in Montreal

The Rays asked permission of MLB’s executive council to begin their pursuit of a stadium. The council took no action Thursday.
The Rays have formally sought MLB's permission to begin pursuing their sister city plan with Montreal. Baseball's executive council took no action on Thursday, but the Rays are hopeful of a decision in December.
The Rays have formally sought MLB's permission to begin pursuing their sister city plan with Montreal. Baseball's executive council took no action on Thursday, but the Rays are hopeful of a decision in December. [ Archive ]
Published Nov. 19
Updated Nov. 19

You’ve got to believe the politicians and players association will be difficult to convince. And it may be impossible to get some fans in Tampa Bay to fully climb on board with the sister-city plan.

So when it came time to get the process rolling, the Rays began with a more sympathetic crowd.

Owner Stu Sternberg asked permission of Major League Baseball’s executive council to formally begin pursuing the split- season plan with Montreal during an owners meeting in Chicago on Thursday.

The eight-member council didn’t take action, but commissioner Rob Manfred said that was because the soon-to-expire collective bargaining agreement is a more urgent issue right now.

“The council didn’t come to a conclusion on that, but really almost exclusively because of the press of other business,” Manfred said at a news conference afterward. “It’s a complicated topic. … We just have a lot out there right now. More to follow on that one.”

The Rays are hopeful that council members will be able to get up to speed quickly on the nuances of the unique plan and approve the franchise’s pursuit in December.

“Commissioner Manfred and Major League Baseball are pleased and encouraged by our progress and efforts to secure the future of the Rays in Tampa Bay,” Sternberg said in a statement. “We presented our sister-city plan to MLB’s executive council and expect to have more formal feedback in the coming weeks.”

Presumably, the most complex issue facing owners on the executive council is the assigning of territorial rights. Every MLB team has exclusive rights to operate in counties surrounding their stadium. They are also given broadcast rights for television and radio in the market.

The Rays have asked for MLB’s territorial and broadcast rights for Montreal so proposed partner Stephen Bronfman can begin moving ahead with plans for a stadium on the outskirts of downtown.

While Toronto is more than 300 miles from Montreal, it’s possible the Blue Jays could seek compensation for sharing the television market in Canada. The Blue Jays games are broadcast across the country on Sportsnet.

Getting permission from the executive council is the first step in a tricky four-part process that would require some precise timing over the next two years or so. If MLB grants its approval, the Rays would likely seek to secure stadium funding in Montreal and then turn their attention to Tampa Bay.

The final step would be coming up with a plan — which would likely involve financial incentives — to appease a skeptical players union.

Because of the time it takes to secure stadium financing, as well as the actual construction of two ballparks, the Rays are moving quickly to ensure they will be ready to move when their use agreement at Tropicana Field ends in six years.

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If a stadium is built in Ybor City, which is the team’s preference, the Rays would likely seek a buyout of the final years of the Trop’s use agreement, which would allow St. Petersburg to begin developing those 85 Trop acres sooner rather than later.

Staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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