FLASHBACK Mar. '14: Rays to Montreal? Fat Chance (Pt. II)
It's time again to revisit a popular topic! Except, this week, it's TSN sports legal analyst Eric Macramalla doing the dirty work, writing, "Forget it Montreal, the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t moving anytime soon." One of his main reasons (as I've written about before): the Rays have a use agreement, not a lease.
The reason the Rays aren’t moving ties into their deal with the city. The Rays never signed a traditional lease. Rather, it signed a “Use Agreement”, which prevents the team from moving out of Tropicana Field and calls for potentially catastrophic monetary damages should the Rays abandon the stadium before its deal is up in 2027. This is in stark contrast to a traditional lease, where a tenant owes the landlord what’s left on that lease after breaking it.The attorney who negotiated that deal back in the 90s? John Wolfe, who remains St. Pete's top attorney.
So that takes us back to the city suing for money – and lots of it – should the Rays fail to honor its agreement. It’s not clear what that amount would be, but the ask is likely to be exorbitant. The city could argue that it should be paid in excess of $100 to $200 million as compensation for the loss of the team and the intangibles that come with an MLB team in a city. Some of these are outlined in the Use Agreement, and include things like the “creation of new jobs, local employment opportunities, increased business prospects, direct and indirect tax revenues, enhancement of the community’s image and promotional opportunities, and an improvement in life and local pride of the citizenry”.
The city did its homework when it drafted the Use Agreement.
(This month's) very limited negotiated settlement was Rays owner Stuart Sternberg’s only viable play. He simply had few options since he couldn’t pick up and leave without the threat of a major lawsuit.This touches upon my most recent post, which details how little leverage the Rays have until St. Pete council agrees to let them look elsewhere. Macramalla continues:
One more thing – major league baseball historically doesn’t abandon stadiums where the team is the anchor tenant. It sends a terrible message to cities that MLB teams don’t honor leases.
So for those fans hoping to see the Rays in Montreal in the near future, stop hoping. However, should the Rays fail to make progress on a new stadium by about 2021, they could at that point start negotiating with a city like Montreal to build a new stadium for the 2028 season. The Rays would then let the city know they intend to move in a few years with the hope of buying the city out in exchange for an early exit.
For Expos fans, expansion is more likely to land the city a team in the near future. MLB, however, hasn’t expressed an interest in adding teams at this time.
With enhanced revenue sharing, substantial revenue from media deals, a deep history of baseball in Montreal going back to 1897 and a city that is the 15th largest metropolitan city in North America, it seems inevitable that Montreal will get a team. The numbers line up in an MLB economic landscape that has dramatically changed since 2004. The issue, though, is when. And that doesn’t seem to be anytime soon.