A feasibility study gauging the prospects of bringing baseball back to Montreal has been released, and while the numbers are a touch sobering, proponents continue to have hope that the Expos (or some other team) will be reborn. Led by former Expo player Warren Cromartie, the study indicates that the total cost would be over $1 billion to buy a team and build a ballpark. The study was written by Ernst & Young.
Why $1 billion? It’s assumed that some group will have to either buy an existing team (leading candidate: Rays) or pay an expansion franchise fee. Nevermind that franchise valuations continue to escalate, making a $525 million cost seem already outdated. Seven years ago Ted Lerner paid $450 million to take the Expos/Nats off MLB’s hands. A 36,000-seat, open air ballpark built in a similar model to Target Field would cost approximately $500 million, and would be two-thirds publicly funded. Montreal Homerun Project (the proponents) have followed the Target Field/Twins plan closely, calling it the “MLB Hybrid model” to act as a label for a public/private partnership.
At the end of the presentation, Cromartie makes a plea for a deep-pocketed champion to make Montreal baseball a reality again. At least one columnist thinks that champion could be telecom giant Bell Canada. The reasoning is that Bell, whose TSN recently lost NHL national TV rights to rival Rogers Sportsnet, could make a baseball investment to bolster its carriage portfolio. Rogers already owns the Blue Jays and the former SkyDome.
While the study is fairly thorough, I think it severely lowballs cost estimates, which have exploded the last several years. There are some other estimate oddities:
- 47% of ticket sales would come from corporate sources. Considering this blog’s coverage of a corporate support-poor franchise like the A’s, the number seems rather high.
- Attendance would be between 27,000 and 32,000 per game, and could drop to 22,000 as the honeymoon factor wears off. In the Expos’ last 21 years at Olympic Stadium, they averaged over 22,000 only twice.
- The Montreal franchise would receive nominal revenue sharing, even though it’s supposed to be one of the top 15 markets.
- Proponents claim that stadium debt would be paid off in only eight years.
The last claim seems awfully rosy, and ventures into extremely dangerously territory. Plenty of stadia have paid off their debt loads long before they were expected to, but that usually involves outside revenue sources such as hotel and car rental taxes. In this case, revenues would come directly from the ballpark.
I applaud Montreal for getting moving on this, and they could be well positioned down the road for a future team. But it would require a current owner selling at below market or moving away from his preferred market. With A’s ownership focused on staying in the Bay Area and Rays ownership locked into a lease at the Trop, there would seem to be no immediate path to a team for the Montreal group. At least they’re getting prepared. All they need is a sugar daddy.