Rays meet with Tampa officials, team doubles down on Tampa Bay-Montreal sister city concept

Posted at 4:56 PM, Feb 10, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Michael Lortz loves baseball in Tampa Bay, and studies it so much he has a Twitter account devoted to the topic.
And he is not a fan of sharing the Rays with a certain city in Canada.

"Is Cleveland going to have share a team with Nashville? Is Pittsburgh going to have a share a team with San Antonio? Where does this end?" asked Lortz.

Rays ownership says it could end with Tampa Bay losing baseball completely if the shared city proposal doesn't work out.

On Monday, inside Tampa Mayor Jane Castor's office, Rays owner Stu Sternberg, along with Rays President Brian Auld, and President of Baseball Operations Matthew Silverman met for several hours to discuss a deal to move the Rays to Tampa. Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan set up the meeting.

"For today's discussion, it was almost entirely on the split season concept," Hagan said. "That is the model the team is exploring. It would be again a split season that would also include the Rowdy's, potentially spring training; it would be a smaller ballpark. We're still convinced that Ybor City offers the best opportunity for the team to be sustainable and remain here."

RELATED: Montreal a 'much nicer city to be in than St. Petersburg,' prospective Rays partner says

They say having a team in both cities would mean more attendance and more revenue and they'd be able to build for much less than the failed Ybor City plan.

"So we've come up with a way to knock $300,000 or $400,000 off the cost of a ballpark. We've come up with a way to nearly double our revenue streams
by bringing in another market, another market that loves baseball just as much as we did," said Rays President Brian Auld.

Team officials pitched the plan at Rays Fan Fest, and are hopefully the Montreal talk doesn't overshadow the coming season.

"There's a lot of excitement. We know the stadium talk is real talk. We are going to give it to you straight; we are going to tell you what we are thinking. We are not going to sugar coat it," said Rays President of Baseball Operations Matthew Silverman.

Some booed when the Montreal topic came up Saturday. Others listened to the plan. The Rays say they'll continue to talk with fans in public forums to continue the conversation.

"The idea is to have these two markets that both love baseball combined, we both have the ability to do more with more and everyone is going to be happier with a better product on the field. If we can do this, we can figure it out. We may be able to solve the problem. I would argue the results are much worse for all of us," said Auld.

The Rays owner also made his pitch, talking on WDAE radio. Sternberg says the major league has all but written off the Tampa Bay market.

"With four or five games to go last year, we are fighting for the playoffs; we had home games against Boston. We had 7,300 people in the building. So if you can tell me how I get from 7,300 to 30,000 because the area is growing, I'm with you," Sternberg said on WDAE.

Many details haven't been revealed yet on how the split would even work, including a potential new team name. And, where the money would come from to build new stadiums in both cities.

Lortz says because of the Montreal talk, it will be hard for fans to stay devoted to the team.

"We have to live year by year. And that Montreal cloud will stand over us consistently."

Hagan said the Rays wants to strike a deal before the end of the baseball season and no later than the end of the year.

The Tampa Bay Rays released the following statement after meeting with officials from the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County Monday afternoon:

"Today, we took a meaningful step toward securing the future of Rays baseball in Tampa Bay beyond 2027. We appreciate Mayor Castor and Commissioner Hagan's leadership and look forward to a continued dialogue with City and County stakeholders. We remain focused on the Sister City concept and unwavering in our commitment to work in partnership with the community as this process moves forward."