MLB Expansion or Realignment: Should Canada get Another Baseball Team?

Thursday September 8, 2011

 

 

April Whitzman (Blue Jays Writer- MLB reports):  Should Canada get another Major League Team? It’s been a question that has been discussed ever since the Montreal Expos got relocated to Washington at the end of the 2004 season.  However, with the increased popularity of the Toronto Blue Jays nation-wide and the success of sports in large Canadian cities such as Vancouver and Montreal, it is a debate that is getting considerable attention. Here are my thoughts on the possibility of either MLB adding a new team to Canada or on having one relocated north.

 

VANCOUVER

 Let’s start with the possibility of whether Vancouver could support a Major League Baseball team. To begin, it should be considered that baseball interest has increased significantly in the city ever since the Vancouver Canadians became a Low-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Vancouver discussion has since shifted venue with the newly-renovated B.C Place Stadium. With over $600 million in upgrades and retrofitting, it is presently one of the most impressive structures in North America.

Let’s also take into account the size of Vancouver; with a surrounding area population of nearly three million, it is one of the biggest cities in the USA or Canada not to have a team.  Not only that, but there is history of baseball in Vancouver. In fact, BC Place Stadium hosted annual exhibition games for the Seattle Mariners back in the nineties when the Pacific Northwest Club had not yet moved into Safeco Field, and attendance was very acceptable. In fact, the exhibition games against the Toronto Blue Jays drew approximately 40,000 fans per game. 

Prior to being relocated to Sacramento, Vancouver also had an AAA-affiliate team that played out of Nat Bailey Stadium for Major League teams including the then California Angels, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, and Los Angeles Dodgers. Once again, Vancouver residents proved that baseball was important to them by having very good attendance at the games.

While I am still optimistic regarding the fact that a team in Vancouver would work, Andrew Forsyth, the Vancouver Canadians’ Beat Writer for JaysProspects.com, discussed a realistic angle, stating: “An MLB Team in Vancouver? That’s a tough sell. Vancouver is a dedicated hockey town, and baseball, be it the Blue Jays, Mariners or Canadians, rarely gets coverage in the local media. Thus, they will have a hard time drawing a crowd as long as the Canucks are on the ice. Plus, with Scotia Bank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium only holding a crowd of 5,100, the team would have to go to the retro-fitted BC Place which is already home to the BC Lions and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Although Vancouver is a city that does well hosting multiple sports teams, they are a fair-weather fan base with a minority of dedicated Baseball fans. Thus, the hardest sell of all is that Vancouver fans don’t react well to teams that don’t make the playoffs, so if a team were to come, they’d need to be immediately strong.”

Thus, taking all of this into consideration, the question is asked again – Is there a future for MLB in Vancouver? As Forsyth states, it is definitely a tough sell. But, I believe that due to the increased publicity of Vancouver as a land of sports (thanks in part to the 2010 Winter Olympics), it is evident that fans in Vancouver would love a MLB team in their city… they’d just need to win!

 

MONTREAL

On a personal note, I should admit that the only time I have seen my father cry was during the Montreal Expos final home game. While I was only 17 at the time, I remember it perfectly like it was yesterday. It was September 29, 2004, and the Expos lost 9-1 to the Florida Marlins – definitely not the way the wanted to end their career in Canada. 31,395 fans were in the stands, including myself, and of course, my weeping father. While they lost their last home game, the Expos finished their season with a win, defeating the New York Mets by a score of 8-1 on October 3rd. That was it, after 36 seasons, 2,753 wins, 2,942 losses, 2,786 home games, 2 inadequate ball parks, and 108,858,412 fans who saw only one single postseason appearance. The Montreal Expos were no more.

Still people ask:  could they come back?

This question is asked even more on a regular basis now that the NHL has brought back the Winnipeg Jets and that their fan base has doubled. But could the same occur for the Montreal Expos? Personally, I think that it is a harder sell for Montreal than Vancouver, as there are many improvements they would need in order for this unlikely dream to become a reality.

For starters, the reincarnated Expos franchise would absolutely need a new stadium. While I loved the park as a kid, Olympic Stadium is simply not a good place to play baseball. This new stadium should also need a retractable roof. While Montreal has always been against having a retractable roof, they need it due to the weather in the early and late parts of baseball season. And by having it retractable, the new team could play outdoor baseball – and still not have any weather-related postponements at home, just like its Canadian counterpart, the Toronto Blue Jays.

Similar to Vancouver, another aspect that must occur is that the team will need to be successful. Montreal is tired of having losing teams and if the Blue Jays are any indication, fans only go to the games if there are top-tier players (Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, etc) playing. Lastly, if Montreal does receive a team, there is one final thing that must occur – the team needs to be called the Montreal Expos. As comparable to the  new Winnipeg Jets, fans need the history behind the franchise. Keeping the name is the only way this can be done. (Of course, signing Montreal native and current New York Yankee catcher Russell Martin could also be a great addition to the team).

Many blame the downfall of the Expos on the fans and on the fact that most of the population is French, resulting in a barrier between the players and fans. However, I still place most of the responsibility on the 1994 strike-suspended season which stopped the Expos season, which was on pace to win 105 games that year. This disenchanted the fan base, and within two years the team parted with Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker, Delino DeShields and John Wetteland, and the foundation began to crumble. Thus, I do not think the fans are to blame, but rather the lost season which ended up being the team’s downfall. As in Winnipeg, I believe  that only the fans would be able to bring baseball back to the city.

Another issue, however, is the competition that would arise between the Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays. No, I am not referring to the rivalry that used to occur every Canada Day (July 1st) between the two teams, but instead, to the competition that would occur on network television and within the media. There is no doubt that competing television interests put the Expos in direct competition with the Jays in the 80s and 90s and set Montreal on a downhill slide. With Rogers Sportsnet already taking precedence of the Blue Jays and growing a larger fan base by the minute, my guess that media and broadcasting would definitely be a slippery slope if the Expos were to return as well.

While Forsyth gave me his thoughts on the addition of an MLB team in Vancouver, I was also curious to hear his thoughts regarding Montreal as well. To this, he stated, “Montreal is even more of a hockey town than Vancouver, so once again, if a pro team were to re-enter the province, my guess is that priority would be placed on getting the Nordiques to return to Quebec. It’s tough. Canadians love their hockey.”

While Quebec does love its hockey, it is apparent that many miss the peanuts and crackerjacks in their province. They have since tried to fill the void in their lives with a successful independent Can-Am league ballclub that is only a few hours away (in Quebec City) from Olympic Stadium. Despite the team’s success, I still agree with Gilles Taillon, Baseball Quebec’s administration director, as he stated: “For MLB to come back to Montreal, it would have to go through the Minor League route first.” As opposed to Vancouver, Montreal presently does not have a minor-league team to gauge MLB interest in the province. With strong rumors that Ottawa could be receiving an AAA team in the near future, Montreal should make bids and efforts to gain a team as well. If that team is successful and fans prove there is dedication, there is always possibility that Major League Baseball could arrive in Montreal in the future.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

There are many questions that arise if in fact a team did move north to Canada; the first of which, is deciding which league it would join. Many speculate that the new team would join the National League, where the Expos once reigned.  Despite the fact that the first Canadian team played in the NL and has historical rivalries there, the American League might be a better fit. The NL already has two extra teams, thus, by adding a team to the AL, it would represent one more step in leveling the playing field. Specifically, and certainly if a team were to move to Vancouver, I would move the team to the AL West. This would not only enable strong competition with the Seattle Mariners (only about 150 miles from Vancouver), but would bring in a perfect rivalry with the Toronto Blue Jays, as they have British Columbia native, Brett Lawrie.

Another option, however, is to relocate a team to a Canadian city. The first team that comes to mind is the Tampa Bay Rays, as both their field, and their fan base are diminishing despite productive seasons and exciting players. In the case of such a relocation, I would not keep the newly moved team in the AL East, but rather I would move the team to the AL West for the reasons explained above. If a team needs to be re-added to the AL East, my thoughts would be to add the Detroit Tigers to the division (who should have never left the east in the first place in my opinion, based on its rivalries with the Jays, Orioles, Yankees and Red Sox).

 

Overall, these are just my personal thoughts, which only touch the surface of whether Canada should get another Major League team. That being said, I would love to hear your opinions! So be sure to email your comments to MLBreports@gmail.com or to post them at the bottom of this article and add me to Twitter at @Alleycat17. Looking forward to hearing from you!

 

 

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Posted on September 8, 2011, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. Great read April! I think Montreal can support and be successful. They would need a Twins like ballpark , small intimate setting with a retro feel. Yes , the Expos were not world beaters , but with another chance i believe baseball could flourish there again. As for Vancouver , i think Forsyth nails it , it’s a fickle fan base , if you lose , they will not support you. As usual , well done!

  2. Rays would go to Orlando before Canada.

    • I was interested to see how people would take the concept of another MLB team in Canada. Personally I do not see it happening- but some feel they could come to Vancouver or Montreal. Mexico City also has been discussed believe it or not.

  3. Montreal with a good ownership, a good media coverage and a real new baseball stadium can support an mlb team again. I have no doubt on that.

  4. I think the MLB would be sucessful in Montreal,many fans are waiting for it.

  5. Would love a team in Vancouver. I wonder if they could play on a field (BC Place) with a centre hung jumbo tron.

    I am a huge Rays fan, and would welcome them any day, but as many have mentioned before, no one understands baseball in Vancouver.

    With BC Lions and Whitecaps in BC Place, I also don’t see how one could prepare the stadium quickly enough as all 3 have similar seasons.

    • I’m a little late but I’ll respond anyway… MLB would not allow baseball in BC Place. This stadium does not come close to meeting today’s standards for MLB, and yes the scoreboard is too low. Toronto’s Skydome is the worst venue in MLB and would not be able to attract a team if one weren’t their already so a new stadium is of extreme importance for Vancouver and for Toronto.

      Really Vancouver is the centre of baseball in Canada. Vancouver has great developmental programs with a large enrollment, which produces the most and the best big league players by far. Vancouver understands baseball more than any city in Canada, so the roots for a strong fan base are there.

      A waterfront baseball park – north of Gastown where the whitecaps stadium was proposed – would be second to none when you consider the urban setting and the spectacular view. This is the new standard for baseball. If a triple A park were built with provisions to upgrade to MLB standards, the path to MLB in Vancouver becomes a realistic goal.

      Keep in mind that the smallest market – Milwaukee – has a metro population of 1.75 million people and supports MLB as well as the NBA. The Lower Mainland has a population of 2.7 million people. Nearly a million more people. Good fan base definitely.

  6. The A’s should move to Montreal. This would bring history, resolve the issue in the Bay Area, and put the team in the AL, enhancing the rivalry with the Blue Jays, getting the Yanks and Red Sox to town, etc.

    MLB’s failure in Montreal had *everything* to do with ownership mismanagement and MLB failures. The economic situation in Montreal in 2011 is night and day with the situation in the 80′s and 90′s.

    For Montreal to succeed it needs a dedicated ownership group. They will need to build a stadium, and almost certainly they will need a TV station to drive media revenue. That is the most important part of success in MLB. If you are interested in launching a major sports network in Quebec, having MLB would be the lynch pin. 162 games per year.

    MLB has a problem with the A’s. The ownership group has failed miserably and done a number on the fan base, with the support of MLB. MLB wants one team in the bay area, the SF Giants, so they can be a super team like the Yankees. The San Jose option is in many ways quite a poor move. Montreal with a new stadium and owners with a media deal in hand would be a vastly better market, nearly twice the size. As MLB is not willing to make it work in Oakland, and Oakland is not willing to do it for them, the A’s basically have no place to go. There is no other market in the US suitable for MLB. Montreal is by far the best available market, and Montreal and the A’s are a perfect fit in terms of philosophy and history.

  7. If Vancouver were to get a MLB team, it would have to be a National League one. Seattle being in the American League, would almost certainly kick up a fuss at having another AL team so close to them, and I could see their point. I would say, since the L.A. Dodgers owners declared bankrupcy last season, now would be a great time for Vancouver interests to make a move and bring the team north to play. Yeah, I know such a move would be a tough pill for L.A. fans to swollow, but, they still would have the Angels, and even the Padres to route for.

  8. Dodgers to VanCity??? No way! I’d love to see a team in Vancouver but I dont know what the fan support would be. If they were gonna do it they should move the rays. That way they could have a winner. Tons of people in Vancouver say they don’t even like the nucks when they’re losing.
    a bad ball club would be a disaster

  9. Montreal return is possible, but MLB coming to Vancouver? Now that makes no sense from a business stand-point especially when you already have the Vancouver Canucks hogging up the entire market. Thus making any possibility for a move to be a very ridiculous one.
    Reference:
    http://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/on-numbers/scott-thomas/2011/08/baseball-has-few-options-for-expansion.html

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. We definitely like to have different viewpoints on the Reports. From my basis, I see a 0% chance of MLB expanding into Canada. Ever.

    • Without a baseball specific stadium in Montreal, they have no chance of getting a team back. The Lower Mainland is the centre of baseball in Canada so it is more likely a team would come to Vancouver. Build a Triple A park that is upgrade-able to MLB standards and the path to MLB is much easier.

      Baseball for the most part is played outside of hockey season and would fill the gap left by the Canucks in the Summer months. Milwaukee supports NBA and MLB in a much smaller market because there is not much overlap between the 2 leagues.

    • Part of the issue is support in Canada for baseball. Once the Expos left, it meant that Toronto would likely remain the only Canadian MLB team. Vancouver already lost its NBA franchise. There were a variety of factors for this shift, but it certainly did not increase the confidence of other sports to expand into Vancouver. Right or wrong, many Americans are not interested in shifting MLB teams to Canada. Montreal/Vancouver are not seen as cities that will draw good ratings and attendances at games. Perception is often reality- and the perception in this case is that another Canadian city cannot sustain a MLB franchise. Thank you for your comment!

  10. BTW Jay the Expos use to play in Olympic Stadium (which is not demolished yet), the main reason for the departure of the Expos was the Expos inability to make the playoffs since 1981. Not only that, but fans in Montreal were EXTREMELY angered by the league’s decision to cancel part of the 1994 season in which the Expos were doing terrific led to many Expo fans believing that MLB didn’t care about Montreal. Addition to that ownership wanted to move the team out of Montreal.

    IMO those are the reasons for failure in Montreal. The only way for Montreal to gain a MLB franchise is a solid ownership group, I do not believe that will come anytime soon, unless the Canadiens start playing terribly while the Blue Jays are playing terrifically. The odds of a team coming back to Montreal should go through the roofs since several teams in MLB are starting to show signs of financial strains.

    To be honest, MLB seems to have reached it’s maximum capacity. More than likely they would be retracting as MLS is starting to expand and taking over the summer time sport or be forced to implement a hard cap, which would allow opportunities for expansion.

    As for Vancouver, a team will not come anytime soon maybe even decades as there is already interest from the Canucks ownership group to pick up an NBA team.

    References:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreal_Expos
    http://blogs.canada.com/2011/12/14/sell-the-hornets-and-relocate-to-vancouver/

  11. MLB needs two more teams to balance its alignemnt. There are fewer MLB players per million males in the MLB age bracket today than 50-60 years ago. The talent is there.

    I would love to see Montreal get another chance. Kansas City, Seattle, and Milwaukee are examples of cities that were not very good baseball cities the first time around, but have been quite successful the second. Washington is enjoying success with the Nationals. History says that the second time around, baseball is likely to be much more successful.

    you could use the Big Owe for about 3 years or so. Move the tennis center and build a retro park on the Parc Jarry site. The Marlins’ new ballpark in an ethnic neighborhood only seats 37,000.

    I hate to say this, but you need to do some of the things that worked for Washington while they waited for the right ownership group. Have some exhibition games. Start a Montreal Baseball Historical Society. Have an annual ExposFest to keep the torch lit. If potential owners see fan interest, they’re more likely to put an ownership group together.

  12. I, for one, would like to see a return of the Expos to Montreal. Back in the old days,Expos games were followed religiously over French radio and the play-by-play commentaries were positively exciting. Listen to a game of “le Canadien de Montreal” on the French channel RDS and you can get a sense of that excitement. No English-speaking network seems capable of make sports sound so good!. And I’m an English mother tongue person!

    “Nos z’amour” would likely have won the National League pennant in 1994 had not a NBL lock-out/strike put a premature end to the season.

    A new stadium dedicated to baseball could be built. Just where is the question. An ideal location might be the old Turcott Yards. But Montreal is sprawling outward more and more in all directions. The city’s thoroughfares, however, are a disgrace. They are in ruins and getting worse. Grid-lock can be encountered at just about any time of day. Before a stadium can be built, there must be convenient access to the planned site.

    Its not the fan base that needs to be built up but rather Montreal’s infra-stuctures…and that is not likely to happen soon.

  13. I am a die hard Red Sox and Bruin fan; but nothing used to please me more than to take the 5.5 hours drive up to Montreal to take in a hockey game, or in the summer a long baseball weekend especially for interleague play… Yankees or Red Sox.
    Montreal is a beautiful city rich in gastronomical delights and cultural amenities. The fans are passionate and frankly were screwed by MLB due to stadium and financial issues.
    I agree they need a new stadium in the downtown area.. but put a good product on the field and the fans will come… look at Tampa no one cares …put that young team in Montreal with the natural rivalries in Boston, Toronto and NYC and it will be like the 80′s early 90′s again drawing 2 mil.+ fans a year. (but not to that monstrosity Big OH OWE) Do it Montreal you deserve a team!

  14. What about the hamilton Ontario area?

  15. I can see Cleveland moving to El Paso and is Tampa probly moving next year then and where would it be?They have good fans their location is just terrible.

  16. Montreal is the only city I can see getting a MLB level team and that’s only if Tampa Bay has no other choice but to move there. The will be MLB expansion. I am absolutely certain minor league ball will be coming to many, many cities in Canada. I believe Ottawa has a team or will be getting a team next season. Also, Winnipeg has a team in the American Association.

  17. I’ve had some second thoughts on this topic. Expanding into Canada does fit w/ the current MLB commisioners dreams of expanding globally. But Canada would be a hard sell for some of the current teams who need visiting teams to boost their attendance. Mr. Hacohen is right. Ratings in the U.S. against Canadian teams will obviously be down. The ONLY way to avoid a drop in ratings is to play to Canada’s strengths. Create an all Canadian division! This would promote the game within Canada the most of any option. Canadian teams playing on Canadian T.V. With the weighted schedule, the Canadian teams would play more than half their games against rival Canadian teams. This would create a big rivalry among Canadian fans, and a guarantee that one Canadian team would be in the playoffs every year…..which would absolutely boost Canadian interest in the sport. The Bluejays would finally be set free from the extremely tough American League East and be allowed to soar as perennial favorites in a National League Canada division. Cities that could join the Jays…….Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Ottawa.

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