Five years ago, the memories of the Montreal Expos were fading fast and any dream of a return of Major League Baseball to Montreal seemed to be a fantasy that could never come to fruition.
Today Montreal stands with a glimmer of hope that they could see the return of baseball. The Montreal Baseball Project launched in 2012, a project led by former Expo Warren Cromartie, whose goal is to begin a grassroots movement to explore the possibility of Montreal receiving an MLB franchise.
This week, the results of a feasibility study were released to the public. The study concluded that Montreal is in fact capable of serving as a good home to a team with the right situation.
The Montreal Baseball Project worked with the Montreal Board of Trade, as well as Ernst and Young to figure out the feasibility of a franchise in Montreal. Needless to say, the estimated costs involved in making that happen are significant. Ernst and Young revealed that it would take about $525 million to bring a team to Montreal, as well as $500 million for a 36,000-seat stadium and a government investment totaling $335 million. That adds up to $1.36 billion.
It's only logical to believe that it could work. The Montreal area's population is estimated at 3.8 million people. It's one of the largest markets in North America without Major League Baseball. The city carries the baggage of its original Expos team relocating after failure to build a new stadium, dwindling attendance and an absence of television deals. These are all problems that could be fixed a second time around.
A team is not coming to Montreal without a downtown ballpark. This was one of the contingencies of the feasibility study. The financial success of a franchise in Montreal hinges on a downtown stadium. The study also claims that any government investment in a ballpark would be paid back to them within eight years, and within 30 years they'd make $1 billion in profit. This portion of the study seems far-fetched, as there is no evidence of public investment in a stadium paying dividends to taxpayers.
The study released polls saying that 69% of Quebecers would be interested in baseball returning and would buy tickets. It's easy to say that of course, without having to hand over any money. This portion of the study is very hard to gauge. While attendance dipped dramatically in the Expos' final years, there was a time when they were packing the Olympic Stadium night after night. Crowds of 40,000 were common in 1994, as the Expos held the best record in baseball before a players strike cancelled the season. In the early 1980's, they drew totals of over 2 million fans per season, far higher than the league average at the time.
A source of revenue the Expos didn't have was a major television deal. TV deals are where teams make their highest profit. Today, revenue sharing exists in the MLB and every team has a television deal. With the emergence of all-sports channels which are hungry for programming, 162 regular season games would be an ideal investment. RDS and TVA Sports are two possibilities in the francophone sector and the logical provider on the English side would be TSN. This leads to the important question of a possible owner if Montreal were to receive a baseball team.
Bell Media lost their NHL rights to Rogers who paid $5.2 billion for the next 12 years. Stripped of hockey, that's sure to leave some holes in Bell's programming lineup. Would it not make sense to land the rights to a baseball team? Rogers has all rights to the Blue Jays, so what if Bell were to respond with a revived Expos team?
That $5.2 billion could pay for a new team, a new stadium and Bell wouldn't even have to pay for broadcasting rights. It's a logical move for Bell. With the direction professional sports has gone, a multimedia company is an ideal owner. In this circumstance, the two largest multimedia companies in Canada would have a healthy competition trying to win over the country with their own baseball teams.
The defunct Expos fanbase wasn't limited to the Montreal area. This was Canada's first MLB team. The club had fans across Canada; in the prairies, the maritimes and in BC. The Blue Jays may market themselves as Canada's team, but that's only by default. If given the choice, you have to wonder how many Canadians would support the Blue Jays if they had their Expos back.
While there are several large entities capable of owning a baseball team here, including Molson, Cirque de Soleil or Saputo, Bell seems to be the most realistic option. They have the pockets to bring a baseball team through re-location or expansion and could foot the bill for a stadium. Doesn't Parc Bell just roll off the tongue?
All of these factors support the notion that baseball could work. Is it still a pipe dream? Perhaps, but it sure doesn't sound impossible anymore. Several acclaimed baseball writers and those involved in the game have vouched for Montreal as a viable market, including Keith Olbermann and player-agent Scott Boras.
There are still many hurdles for Montreal to overcome if a baseball team is to return. The city and the province of Quebec are dealing with corruption, poor roads and problems with healthcare. Taxpayers would likely rather have their necessities met and a baseball team may be viewed as a luxury Quebec can't afford. As much as we can say an MLB return is financially viable, the city needs the ones with deep pockets to step forward. No one did last time the team needed it, and the skeptics have every reason to believe no one would step up this time around.
Montreal has a rich baseball history behind it, and the interest in the Expos has lived on, as Andre Dawson and Gary Carter are in the baseball hall of fame, with their plaques sporting the Expos logo. Expos merchandise is still a hot-seller. According to New Era officials, manufacturers of MLB caps, the Expos hat is the third-highest seller in Canada, behind the Blue Jays and the New York Yankees. The Expos are talked about more and more. A facebook page called ExposNation launched last year with over 160,000 likes on facebook. A group of 1,000 fans went to Toronto this past summer sporting Expos colors and the Olympic Stadium will be hosting a pair of Jays exhibition games in March. This is in an effort for the Jays to expand their fan-base, but for Montrealers, it should be seen as an opportunity to display their passion for baseball, while reminding the MLB that there is only one team they'll embrace. A chance to prove Montreal deserves another opportunity at baseball.
The numbers back it, now it's time for the people to do their part.
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