Despite local chamber endorsements, doubts persist about the feasibility of the team's "Sister City" strategy.
The Tampa Bay Rays have gone all in on their “Sister City” idea — a proposal to split the Major League Baseball team’s season between the Tampa/St. Petersburg area and Montreal and play home games in brand-new, open-air stadiums to be built in both cities. The Rays would presumably continue to hold spring training at their facility in Port Charlotte, but it’s unclear what would become of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the United Soccer League team, owned by the Rays, that currently plays its home games at Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Pete.
First mooted in the wake of the Rays’ collapsed stadium deal in Ybor City, the split-season plan, though initially greeted with shock, outrage and skepticism, has steadily gained traction — and supporters: In mid-November, both the Tampa Bay Chamber and Ybor City Chamber of Commerce issued statements in favor of the Sister City arrangement.
“The Ybor City Chamber of Commerce endorses the Tampa Bay Rays and Rowdies remaining in Tampa Bay with a new outdoor ballpark to be built in Ybor City,” the Ybor chamber’s statement reads. “The Ybor chamber also endorses the Rays Sister City plan to share the team's regular season between Tampa Bay and Montreal. The chamber recognizes this as the most viable plan to ensure that baseball remains in the Tampa Bay area.”
The Tampa Bay Chamber, whose endorsement was jointly issued with the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber, calls the Sister City proposal a “viable concept” that will “ensure that baseball remains and thrives in this community for years to come.”
Viable, yes, but likely? We’ll see. The plan has already faced backlash across the border, particularly from the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The group’s director, Renaud Brossard, dissed the idea in a Tampa Bay Times op-ed and even traveled to St. Pete to erect a billboard next to Tropicana Field that read, “Dear Rays, Montréal won’t pay for your new stadium. Sincerely, Taxpayers.”
Brossard’s stance is backed up by a poll, commissioned by the Quebec Journal, that found that 59% of Montreal residents and 60% of Quebec City residents oppose the split-season proposal. Less than half — 46% — of poll respondents say they would attend baseball games if Montreal, home of the Expos from 1969 to 2004, were to regain a MLB team.