Sports News

Montreal can support baseball but return unlikely

TORONTO (Reuters) - Montreal is a viable Major League Baseball market but the sport’s return to the city is unlikely due to lack of a suitable stadium and an owner willing to spend enough to build a contender, a study said on Friday.

Montreal was the first Canadian city to have a major league team, with the National League’s Expos calling the city home from 1969 until their relocation to Washington in 2004, by which time they were playing in front of very few fans in Montreal’s cavernous Olympic Stadium.

But Montreal is large and wealthy enough to support another team and has a healthy corporate presence, according to the report from the Conference Board of Canada. Also the Canadian dollar, whose weakness once plagued Canadian professional sports clubs, is now flexing its muscles versus its U.S. counterpart.

But those factors may not be enough, the report said, noting the big disparity between rich and poor teams in Major League Baseball. It said MLB has the least-level playing field among North America’s four major professional sports leagues.

“There is one major factor working against a return to Montreal - the lack of a level playing field among franchises,” the study said.

“While the Canadian dollar might be at parity, it would be tough to find an individual or corporation willing to bring an MLB team back to Montreal knowing that the club would struggle to be competitive.”

The report said the Toronto Blue Jays, Canada’s sole MLB team, can look forward to “healthy revenues” over the coming years because the team has a quality stadium in place and is benefiting from the strength of the Canadian dollar.

The study’s authors suggest a new franchise in Montreal could only afford a payroll of about $62.3 million, which would leave the team in the bottom third of the payroll rankings and likely near near the bottom of the standings for many seasons.

“Moreover, a new stadium would probably be required to make baseball work again in Montreal. That would require a huge investment in a team with little near-term hope of success in the standings,” the study said.

“Unless an owner with extremely deep pockets and a willingness to lose money shows up, baseball won’t be returning to Canada’s second-largest city any time soon.”

Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Peter Galloway