Listen: How the Expos can finally return to Montreal
"The Montreal Expos never went away. Expos take the field here at Olympic stadium in Montreal the second game before game series, the Expos left. They left Montreal. They became the Washington nationals. They went off to play baseball in DC while Olympic stadium. Their former home sat empty and decaying the teams famous mascot UP even went to work for the Montreal Canadians because even furry orange monsters gotta eat. The idea of the Expos of a major league team in the heart of Montreal the modern monument to a sport with deep history in the province that never entirely vanished. There were always a few people some of them loudly and most of them very quietly keeping the fires burning mostly they were dreaming. But sometimes they were planning for the Tim's eventual return, and somehow that return might happen. The sport of baseball has changed. The city of Montreal has changed the business of sport in general has changed an unbelievably as cities around North America. Celebrate baseball's opening day today. It is beginning to seem like the team that never really went away is suddenly very close to coming back. How did this happen? How real is it? What does baseball mean to Montreal to Quebec or to Canada? And we'll those fans who refused to abandon their team. Even after their team, abandoned them finally get their happy ending. I'm Jordan heath Rawlings. And this is the big story. Jeff Blair is the host of the Jeff Blair show on sports net. Five ninety the fan. He is the co host of the lead podcast with Stephen Brent knows a lot about baseball in Montreal because he covered the Expos for the zette for about a decade and for the global mail after that so it's opening day to day. There's no baseball in Montreal today. Not yet. But Montrealers are very excited this week. Why is that? Well, I think they should be excited. I mean, I covered the Expos from eighty eight to ninety seven on a full-time basis. And I was there when when the team ended up leaving town part of a franchise swap that saw the Expos go to Washington and saw the ownership of the Boston Red Sox in my and Miami Marlins change as part of the process at that time. There was very little support from the local business community. There were there was a very small collection of minority partners who were in for maybe million two million dollars a year, very small. They had been effectively bought out in a leveraged buyout by Jeffrey Loria was a New York art dealer who came in and saw that I think at the end of the day ended up putting in about twenty five million US of his own money into that team and that up buying it. And then when he sold the Marlins that was for one point three billion any that's but at that time. Time when when the Expos left the Commissioner was committed at the time, but ceiling was committed to bringing baseball back to Washington. It was it was a legacy thing for him. The Expos has I mentioned had no local corporate support. There was no political support. I mean, they didn't have a political champion in the mayor's office. They they had no political champions provincially as a matter of fact, when you know, I think when you talk to people who are involved in sort of the post Charles Bronfman area era, the expo is one of the things they'll say is that they were affectively screwed by p q government. There was just there were there was there was there was no reason to keep the Expos and much there. There is a plan to build a new ballpark was completely stillborn. So there was absolutely no reason for the Expos to stay in town. And of course, attendance it had had decreased while fast forward. Now, you have a new Commissioner rob Manfred. Who also even though he's only been inter for few years. Just thinking of his legacy and his legacy is in. Internationalizing the game. You've seen baseball games. Played in Japan. Baseball will play a game at Lord's Cricket Ground. This year the Red Sox and the Yankees. And rob Manfred has said that he thinks Montreal is a viable baseball market. He also thinks Mexico City's viable baseball. Mark in Montreal itself. You have a really well-funded core ownership group, Stephen Bronfman of Claridge investments, the son of Charles Bronfman and Mitch Garber who's kind of a fascinating guy. Mitch when I first met him. He's a lawyer his uncle was a lawyer who represented a lot of Expos players in and around Montreal Tim Raines, he keeps kind of a fixer for them. And I I mean that in a positive way Mitch also hosted a radio show late night. I mean, he was a dabbler really talented guy. He is now president of Caesars acquisitions international, essentially lives in Monaco. And he's on the French CBC French language version of dragons. Dan. He's he's he's a very he is shaker and mover. He was I believe I don't know if he's still as he was CEO of Cirque du Soleil at one point he's got a lot of money scuttle resume. He's got and he's and he's and he's a billionaire. He and Stephen Bronfman both known each other for while that they have they've kept the dream of baseball in Montreal alive. They done it very quietly as is their manners people. They're both fairly quiet, quiet. People very quietly. They had Denny co dare when he was mayor of Montreal who is a huge baseball. I mean, he's an he's a nut. But he's a huge baseball fan. And he you know, he was show up at every baseball event. The all star game the World Series it show up at the Commissioner's office. He he'd go to the Expos or the Blue Jays games every spring spring training just to kind of fly the flag and lobby for and lobby for a team to return to Montreal and the provincial government, both the liberal government. And the new government are very the very comfortable with the idea of entertaining, some sort of public private partnership. So what we have now is. Commissioner who views internationalizing the game as an important part of his legacy. We have people in Montreal ton of money. What we don't have as a team revolt park. Obviously we have Olympic state, and we don't have a team or ballpark. Well, this is going on the tap. The Tampa Bay rays have been have been trying for twenty twenty-five years to get a ballpark built. They play at Tropicana field in Saint Pete. So horrible ballpark that, you know, their their attendance is routinely the worst in the league somewhat bizarrely. They have one of the best TV contracts in the league. But their attendance is generally pretty poor. They have attempted to build a ballpark in different parts of Tampa. The the providence Saint Pete right now is that Tampa's where the growth there is in the area east of Tampa north Tampa. That's where the growth is. Unfortunately to get the Saint Pete you base give a choice of two bridges. So during rush hour access to Saint Pete from Tampa is essentially it's the worst place you could imagine in the region right ballpark last year. There seemed to be finally at least for the people in Tampa. There seemed to be memento. Adam behind building a ballpark in ebor city, which is to to the eastern part of the city. It's an old old warehouse area. And I I hadn't been paying attention to it at baseball's winter meetings or something happened it collapsed. I don't know what I don't know the exact majority just collapsed. So the winter meetings in baseball where everybody in baseball gathers media general managers owners, it's it's kinda like a swap shop trades or made sometimes free agents or talked about and all that there was a news conference call by Stuart Sternberg with the owner of the race and his president, which if you've got something you wanna float as if you've got a trial balloon you wanna float in baseball. You do it at the winter meetings because everybody who writes talks thinks about baseball is there, right? They held a news conference. You know, blah, blah, blah stadium issue in Tampa. We still have a lease at Tropicana field the twenty twenty four twenty until twenty twenty-seven dot that up. But and this was was was very subtle. And I probably wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't been tipped off about this by a raise official the raise owner. Said listen, we're not getting a park built in tap. We do have a lease right now until twenty twenty seven Saint Petersburg prime real estate in terms of building condos mixed business residential area. I mean, it is a it is a gold mine for raising tax. If there's a crappy building city there's a crappy building sitting on it that we're going to be gone from an in in ten years. So what he did what Stuart Sternberg did was he kind of flipped it a bit. And said, here's the thing. Yeah. We could be here twenty twenty seven. But man, if you guys get an offer between now and then for this parcel a land who knows what the economy's going to look like in twenty twenty seven right? Could be better could be worse. So centrally what he said is. Hey, if you guys get a good offer for this. You know, I'd be willing to cut you deal here to to to help you finish this off. Please. Let me go, please. Let me go. So well that's going on, you know, the folks in Montreal again, very quietly quietly, very diligently. Claridge investments is involved in purchasing land in Griffin town part of Montreal. Which is. Near the peel basin. It's it's kind of an area that's undergoing gentrification. So you've got that. Now, you've got a Tampa Bay rays owner. Who knows he's not gonna stay there? Now, you've got people with money in Montreal in a ballpark. You've got a Commissioner who is committed to this one of the things the tappan though as well, as in addition to all that sort of falling in place, one of the things rob Manfred, the Commissioner says look I realized the reality of the situation now is I'm not going to ask you to build a ballpark. And then give you a team he cited Quebec, cities, and example, building an arena. No NHL team. You said not gonna do that. I just need see the plans. I didn't need the shovel in the ground show me the financing show me the plans haven't nailed down. And we'll try to get a team in. Montreal. Stuart Sternberg owns the raise lives in New York. So what kind of happened in the past couple of months? People started to realize well who says Stuart Sternberg has to sell the raise or Montreal has to get an expansion team. What a Stuart Sternberg said moved the race to Montreal. I live in New York. It's not a big flight. Maybe. I wanna be a majority partner. But maybe I want twenty percent. Maybe bell media comes in for twenty percent char or Stephen Bronfman and Mitch Garber have thirty percent each and away we go. So all these things have kind of have fallen in place if you'd asked me for years ago. I would've said there's no chance of baseball returning to much you're on my lifetime. Now, I'd be stunned. If there isn't a major league team in Montreal within the next six or seven years five years might be a little tight, but just sort of planning this thing out of that. I can see baseball back in Montreal in six seven years at the outside. I'll be surprised if it isn't"