By Kevin James |
Almost 14 years ago the Montreal Expos played their final game October 3, 2004, losing 8-1 to the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. In an interview conducted at this year’s All-Star Game, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred identified Montreal in a list of cities as potential locations for an expansion team.
Manfred’s reference of Montreal generated significant buzz across social media and news outlets. However, is Montreal truly prepared to support Major League Baseball again or has nostalgia surpassed logic and statistics? Following are some points which indicate to me Montreal may be no more capable of supporting an MLB team than it was 14 years ago.
Popular opinion attributes the demise of local interest in the Expos to the 1994 players’ strike in which the season was unprecedentedly cancelled. At the time of the strike, the Expos boasted the best record in baseball at 74-40 and an extremely talented roster with stars like Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou and Larry Walker. Given these positives, the Expos still only averaged 24,453 in attendance. Their total draw of 1.2 million was over 30 percent below the NL average, ranking 11th out of the 14 teams. The Expos also fielded very competitive teams in ’92 and ’93. Those seasons they barely cracked an average of 20,000 fans per game.
Fast forward to 2018. For the last five years, the Toronto Blue Jays have completed their spring exhibition schedule in Montreal with a two game series at Olympic Stadium. In the previous four years, the series was a tremendous draw averaging over 50,000 fans each game. This year saw a dramatic drop in attendance by almost half to an estimated 25,000 per game. Is this a sign that the fervor for an MLB team has declined in Montreal?
Influential Canadian businessmen, most notably Stephen Bronfman and Mitch Garber, have been avid supporters of an expansion team in Montreal, publicly declaring their intent to contribute private funds to the cause. The election last year however of new mayor Valerie Plante may have dealt a blow to these expansion aspirations.
Plante’s zeal in landing an expansion team can be described as lukewarm at best. I view her victory over incumbent Denis Coderre, who has been an outspoken proponent of MLB in Montreal, as a subtle referendum by voters that public funding is better allocated to more pressing matters such as quality of life, transportation and infrastructure improvements as opposed to constructing stadiums.
That leads to the ultimate issue. Where will the team play? The MLB considers Olympic Stadium an unsuitable facility. Note, a new stadium is not a condition of being granted an expansion team, however it will be necessary at some point so logistics must be planned out accordingly. Meanwhile, Mayor Plante has put off a possible voter referendum on this issue for four more years. There is hope by expansion supporters that enough private funding can be secured to render public funding minimal, however, it’s probably not an economic reality. MLB’s consideration of Montreal may be misguided.
Kevin James is the host of First Icon Sports Talk, a web-based video show and podcast. He is a Managing Member of The First Icon Agency LLC which provides booking/representation services for musicians. First Icon also produces visual and written online content related to music, sports and fitness. Kevin’s mantra is “Life is too short to live it being someone else.”