Monday, July 11, 2011

Will MLB’s Montreal Expos be Reborn?


Canada’s first love affair with a MLB baseball franchise took place long before the Toronto Blue Jays were born and won two World Series. Back in 1969 the Montreal Expos were the pride and joy of the nation and for many, they remained Canada’s team until packing up and heading down to Washington DC in 2004 where they were renamed the Nationals.

There’s been some talk recently north of the border about bringing Major League Baseball back to Montreal, but unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be in the cards anytime soon. According to a new report that was released by the Conference Board of Canada, it’s unlikely the city will bid for a franchise because there’s too wide of an economic gap between teams and it results in an unlevel playing field.

Montreal has a long history when it comes to pro baseball since it’s where Jackie Robinson finally broke down its color barrier and it was the first non-American city to have a MLB team. In 1981 the Expos became the first Canadian team to reach the playoffs and they had the best record in MLB in 1994 when the season was canceled half way through it.

But a decade later the Expos were gone, mainly due to a weak Canadian dollar and low revenue. MLB bought them out and offered the franchise to Washington. However, things have changed over the last seven years and the Canadian dollar is now stronger than the U.S. greenback. The city’s metro area also has a population of about 3.8 million, which is the second largest in Canada, and according to league rules, only 2.5 million is needed to support an MLB team. Another bonus, is the city has a large corporate presence with about 100 of the nation’s largest businesses being based there.



On the down side, the report said baseball has the least level playing field when it comes to the four major pro sports league in North America, which are the NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB. The reason for this seems to be the absence of a hard salary cap along with huge differences in teams’ revenue, which is made up of broadcasting rights, merchandise sales, and attendance. Basically, it means only the rich teams can really compete in MLB as the gap between rich and poor is too wide.

A new team in Montreal would be behind the eight ball financially right from the start as a new stadium would likely have to be built since there are too many problems with Olympic Stadium, which was erected in 1976 for the Summer Games. This would make businesses wary about investing in a franchise, plus the fact it would take a new club years to become competitive.

It’s believed Montreal would only be able to afford about $62.5 million as an annual payroll for players. This would leave them in the bottom third of the league in payroll and likely in the standings as well. For Montreal to resurrect itself as a major baseball city it would need to find an owner who doesn’t mind losing money for the first few years. And in today’s economy, that’s not likely to happen.
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