ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - A few years ago, the owner of the Tampa Bay Rays said having the team play homes in Florida and Canada was the best way to keep baseball in the area. Now, they are officially nixing that plan.
On Thursday, the Rays announced they will no longer pursue a split season option with Montreal after the move was rejected by Major League Baseball.
"Today's news is flat-out deflating," Sternberg said at the start of his press conference.
The idea of playing in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal has been discussed over the past several years after attempts to build a new full-time ballpark locally failed.
"This is about Tampa Bay keeping its hometown team and Montreal having one as well," the owner, Stu Sternberg, explained back in 2019. "Both communities secure that Major League Baseball will be played and thrive there for ours and for future generations. And because of it, a deep and powerful connection between two regions can form with baseball as its core."
During the press conference, Sternberg acknowledged the fans who were upset at the idea of the team playing half of the home games in a different country.
"I don’t feel there is a disconnect…and I understand people want their team here all the time," he said. "I did what I thought was best…for the future of the team here in Tampa Bay and the organization."
Sternberg added, "Personally, I think partial seasons are going to be the wave of the future in professional sports."
Since Sternberg took control in October 2005, the once-struggling franchise has been a success on the field but not at the box office.
Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have annually ranked near the bottom in attendance. The Rays averaged about 9,500 for home games last season, 28th in the majors and ahead of only Miami and Oakland.
Meanwhile, the team has been discussing making the move across the bay and joining the Bucs and Lightning in Tampa with their own stadium.
"All along our goal has been to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay," Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement. "We had been working on both sister city and full season proposals, and now we can focus all of our energy on a full season. I am optimistic the Rays will call Tampa Bay home for many years to come."
Last year, former mayor Rick Kriseman announced a company to help redevelop the Tropicana Field site.
The Rays' lease at Tropicana Field, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season.
St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch feels a new stadium in his city remains a possibility. Governmental officials have been working on a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.
"We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals," Welch said in a statement. "With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth."
Sternberg said the team will definitely explore options in the Tampa Bay area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.