The Rays want to explore the possibility of dividing future home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal. They need approval of the city of St. Petersburg to boldly go where no MLB has ever really gone.
Yet even if it can gain that approval, it’s quest to enter into a new frontier for professional sports can’t succeed without the tacit approval of its fans. Attendance figures suggest they don’t have that many to win over, but television ratings reflect a larger group of supporters. If they bought into the concept, the Rays might have the momentum to bring along other stakeholders.
So, forget about winning over elected officials, civic leaders, the players union and fellow MLB teams. What, if anything, can Rays ownership do to convince Tampa Bay fans sharing its home games with Montreal is a palatable idea worthy of consideration? We convened a roundtable to answer that question.
Marc Topkin, Rays beat writer, @TBTimes_Rays: That’s a tough chore, because the fans have the emotional attachment. They’re not going to care as much about how this may help the franchise economically because they feel games are being taken away from them. It’s going to take an educational campaign, orchestrated with a deft touch. Not being talked down to. Renderings of a new stadium are always popular, maybe tourism brochures of Montreal to encourage them to want to go? Still seems like a big challenge.
Logic vs. emotion
John Romano, columnist, @romano_tbtimes: Logically, the number of home games will not make a huge difference for most fans. While it will limit options to early in the season, there are not a tremendous number of fans who go to more than a handful of games anyway. Most of Tampa Bay follows the Rays on TV and the Montreal plan doesn’t need to change that. Emotionally, however, it’s a tough sell. Part of baseball’s charm is the emotional bond of a daily game. The distance between Tampa Bay and Montreal will tear the limits of that bond and I’m not sure the Rays can do anything about it.
Martin Fennelly, columnist, @mjfennelly: Outiside of dollar “franc” nights or we get the playoff games, there is nothing to make this more palatable to Tampa Bay, though we probably don’t deserve it anyway. Stu Sternberg is dreaming if he thinks Rays fans are going to start booking flights to Montreal to see their local nine. Maybe if he pays for it.
Chicken or the egg?
Ernest Hooper, columnist/assistant sports editor, @hoop4you: The Rays say they will seek approval from St. Petersburg city officials for its Montreal plan before reaching out to the community because without city approval, they have no need to sell the fans. However, I wonder if gaining support from elected officials will be easier if they can get fans to buy in. A campaign is required, but it has to start with convincing residents they’re pursuing this idea because it’s best for the community and the team. For now, the financial benefits to the Rays are more evident. The team wants fans to give up 40-plus games and even if they don’t go to every game, they’ll still feel like they’re sacrificing. How the Rays define that sacrifice will be key. Is it solely for the team, or is it a value proposition that will ultimately improve the community by allowing tax dollars to flow to other projects?
Show, don’t tell
Mike Sherman, sports editor, @mikesherman: Show them that Montreal won’t get all the postseason games. Show them that Tampa Bay Rays will stay in the team’s name. Show them how Al Lang Stadium is the first and best option for a stadium. Show them the Trop site will be given full consideration. Show them that an MLS package deal is a real possibility and ranks high on the list of future priorities. Show don’t tell. No more talk about what hasn’t worked. And please, no more talk about all the things you have done for Tampa Bay. Show them, and show them what can work.
And how about throwing in a middle-of-the-order bat, a starting pitcher and another high-leverage reliever, posthaste.