Mon­treal city pledge needed for sta­dium: MLB chief

The China Post - - SPORTS -

Ma­jor League Base­ball Com­mis­sioner Rob Manfred said Mon­day that Mon­treal needs a new sta­dium to have any chance of bring­ing the sport back to the city.

Manfred said that a pair of ex­hi­bi­tion games be­tween the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays that drew 96,350 fans last year demon­strates “a real in­ter­est” in base­ball in Mon­treal, but the league would need a strong com­mit­ment from the city be­fore it could se­ri­ously con­sider re­lo­cat­ing a team or ex­pand­ing there.

“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.

“I don’t ex­pect peo­ple to go into the ground and build a fa­cil­ity with- out some sort of com­mit­ment that they are go­ing to get a team,” he said. “But I do think that you need a plan, and a com­mit­ment to how that plan is go­ing to be ex­e­cuted.”

More than 80,000 tick­ets have al­ready been sold for the up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion games be­tween the Blue Jays and the Reds. Olympic Sta­dium, built for the 1976 Games and home to the Mon­treal Ex­pos start­ing in 1977, holds 45,757 fans when con­fig­ured for base­ball.

Ex­hi­bi­tion games in non-MLB cities are an im­por­tant lit­mus test for the po­ten­tial viability of a mar­ket, Manfred 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,” he said.

The Ex­pos joined the Na­tional League for the 1969 sea­son and re­mained in MLB through 2004 be­fore mov­ing to Wash­ing­ton and be­com- ing the Na­tion­als. The team failed to draw 1 mil­lion spec­ta­tors to Olympic Sta­dium in any of its fi­nal seven sea­sons.

Manfred, who re­placed Bud Selig as com­mis­sioner in Jan­uary, said MLB is not look­ing in the short term to in­crease the league from 30 to 32 teams. How­ever, he did say that if 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.”

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