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ON THE TAMPA-MONTREAL PLAN

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IT’S BEEN DONE BEFORE

On Thursday, much of the sports internet reacted in a mixture of bemused glee and mirthful scorn at the news — first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan — that Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, who’ve struggled for years in their efforts to secure a new stadium in the Tampa/St. Petersburg metro, might explore a time-share arrangement with baseball-bereft Montreal.

Under the proposed plan, the Rays could start their season in Tampa, then at midseason shift north (it’s unclear if they’d become the Expos at the border, or maintain their tropical theme in Quebec.)

Now, of course, the initial impulse is to react to this as a bad plan from the standpoint of players and fans — as fans, you’d only be getting 40-41 home games instead of 82, and as players, you’d be put in an unusual living situation of having “homes” in two different countries at once.

But of course, that obscures the fact that it’s a bad plan for other reasons, too.

From Passan’s report:

Under the plan, the Rays would play early season home games in the Tampa Bay area and the remainder of the year in Montreal, with both cities getting new stadiums, sources said. The number of home games each city would receive has not been determined, sources said.

Wait, rewind the tape a second, play that back.

with both cities getting new stadiums

What a magnificent grift. Professional sports have thrived forever — but especially in the last 30 years — on using the threat of franchise relocation to extract sweetheart stadium deals from foolish municipalities who’d likely be better off letting the teams walk than sinking hundreds of millions of dollars in construction costs and tax abatements into franchises that rarely generate the promised economic benefit. The NFL, after pulling out of Los Angeles in the mid-90s, used the vacancy in the US’s second-largest market to convince dozens of smaller cities to build or refurbish stadiums, lest they lose their beloved Jaguars or Vikings. Then, after that plan was fully exhausted, they went ahead and pulled the Rams and Chargers out of their current homes and got a billion-dollar stadium plan approved in LA.

This is a new level, though. Now, you don’t even need to abandon one market to shake down another! You can get two stadiums built — with all the luxury boxes, personal seat licenses and construction kickbacks to sell, but with less of the one thing you, as a sports owner, hate — actual sports!

It’s a thrilling new step in the vulture-capital dismantling of everything we enjoy about society, and I for one welcome our new Tamptreal Raxpos.

But if we can set that all aside for a minute, set aside the financial motivations for this plan, set aside everything that makes North American professional sports so fundamentally flawed — could this work?

From a fan’s perspective, that is — could a team succeed splitting its time between two semi-permanent homes? Would it gain support, would the players be able to succeed?

Could a team live in two places at once?

The answer, of course, is yes. It’s already happened, in one noble experiment.

Perhaps it was too daring for the time. Perhaps society wasn’t ready. But the Pittsburgh-Birmingham Panthers were light years ahead of us all.