So, the return of baseball to Montreal is once again in the news. Major League Baseball at that. The story broke yesterday that the brain trust at MLB has given the Tampa Bay Rays (once the Devil Rays) permission to talk to Montreal investors about the possibility of splitting the team’s games between the two cities.
Yep, odd though it may sound, initial reaction has been positive here in Montreal. Poll after poll indicates the city’s desire to have MLB back, but with one significant caveat: limited or no public money. This option is seen by some as a way of easing a team into the city. And easing it out of another.
For reasons beyond my understanding the TBR are averaging a mere 14K so far this season although they have a 40-25 record. The average has been declining since 2012 when it was 19K. Many suggestions have been made for this downward spiral including poor public transit and a less than ideal stadium.
And there’s that word – stadium. It has the power to make any Expos fan apoplectic. Because if you think Tampa Bay’s Tropicana stadium is not great, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium not only located miles from the downtown core, but has countless problems of its own. Any serious talk of a franchise returning to Montreal evidently must include a new stadium.
But wait just a moment. There is no doubt the Expos had poor attendance records toward the end of their stay here. Fans were daily subjected to a litany of “when will they go”, “just pull the plug already”. Not exactly an environment conducive to recruiting loyal fans.
Yet that same stadium – cold, ugly, in the middle of nowhere – was packed to the less-than-secure roof during the early eighties when the Expos put a winning product on the field. The stadium was alive with happy fans watching a great team do what great teams do – win. During that time the team averaged 28K fans per game and was ahead of the major league average.
Blame it on the Montreal Canadiens if you want. Their dynasties instilled in many Montreal sports fans an expectation of winning. Sadly they have not been able to live up to their own legacy since 1993.
I sometimes think that focusing on a state-of-the-art stadium more that putting a winning squad on the field is a little bit of cart before horse logic.