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Baseball commissioner to Montreal: build a stadium, then let's talk
MONTREAL -- Major League Baseball's new commissioner Rob Manfred is clear on what Montreal needs to bring baseball back: the city needs a new stadium.
"The key thing in Montreal would be to have a plan for an adequate facility that could support baseball over the long haul," he told The Canadian Press just a few days before Montreal hosts two exhibition games between the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds at Olympic Stadium.
Manfred explained MLB would need a strong commitment from Montreal for a new stadium before the league could seriously consider relocating a team or expanding there.
"(Montreal needs) a plan for a major league facility. A firm, committed-to plan," he said. "I don't expect people to go into the ground and build a facility without some sort of commitment that they are going to get a team. But I do think that you need a plan, and a commitment to how that plan is going to be executed."
Manfred, who replaced Bud Selig as commissioner in January, said MLB is not looking in the short-term to increasing the league to 32 teams, despite strong interest in Montreal.
More than 80,000 tickets have already been sold for the two upcoming exhibition games between Toronto and Cincinnati. Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 Games and home to the Expos starting in 1977, holds 45,757 fans when configured for baseball. It is also sometimes home to Major League Soccer's Impact and the Canadian Football League's Alouettes.
Over 96,000 tickets were sold last year when Montreal hosted two games between the Blue Jays and the New York Mets.
"The exhibition games last year, and how well they were attended and at least the early reports on the games this year demonstrate a real interest in Major League Baseball and the Montreal market," Manfred said. "We find that to be very interesting and exciting."
According to Manfred, exhibition games in non-MLB cities are an important litmus test for the potential viability of a baseball market.
"The games like those exhibition games in new markets are important as an initial test of the level of interest that the market has in the game," he said. "When you have the kind of success you've had in Montreal you kind of pass the first initial test of whether it's a market that could support baseball."
The new commissioner didn't give much away as to the league's plans for the future, but he did say that if the MLB expands beyond the continental United States, the likely new markets will be in Mexico or Canada.
"Mexico and Canada present the most fertile ground just in terms of the level of baseball interest and the proximity to our existing franchises," he said.
Manfred said the league prefers to make baseball work in existing markets, despite the troubles some MLB cities have been facing, such as Tampa Bay and Oakland.
"But we have always been realistic," he said. "At the end of the day, relocation to another market could be the only solution."
Big O needs repairs
The MLB commissioner’s comments come as a new report is released on the Big O’s price tag for repairs.
Released Tuesday, the report says the problematic Olympic Stadium needs $220 million in upgrades, including replacing the electrical system, lighting and the cable car. The roof also needs to be replaced at an estimated price tag of $200-300 million.
“It’s a shame that we continue to pour money in there,” said Matthew Ross, chair of ExposNation, a group dedicated to bringing the Expos back to the city.
The stadium is a major tourist attraction, argued Tourism Minister Dominique Vien.
In these lean times, the Quebec government is unlikely to shell out cash for a new stadium, though Ross argued the project would revitalize the city, “creating jobs in construction, bringing in a new team for tourism. I think it's a no brainer,” he said.