Under the plan, the Rays would play their early-season home games in Florida and then the rest of their schedule in Canada.

MLB: Rays can explore Tampa Bay-Montreal two-city plan, report says

MLB has given the Rays permission to explore a plan in which they would continue to play early-season home games in the Tampa Bay area but then play the latter part of their home schedule in Montreal, ESPN reported Thursday, citing unidentified sources familiar with the situation.

The Rays have embraced the two-city solution as "the most feasible to saving baseball in the Tampa Bay area" after years of lagging attendance and failed attempts to build a new stadium in the Tampa-St. Petersburg region, according to the report.

Montreal last was home to a major-league team in 2004 before the Expos — who had played 22 homes games in Puerto Rico in 2003 — moved to Washington and became the Nationals before the 2005 season.

Under the plan, described to be in its "nascent stages" and still facing significant hurdles, the Rays would play in new stadiums in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, according to ESPN's sources.

MLB's executive council at Wednesday and Thursday's owners meetings gave the Rays permission to explore the dual-city possibility.

“My priority remains the same, I am committed to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come. I believe this concept is worthy of exploration,” Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg — a member of the executive council — said in a statement from the team in reaction to ESPN's report.

By playing only its early-season games in Florida, the team could avoid the necessity — and added expense — of any new Florida stadium being a dome.

The Rays' current lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg runs through 2027. The timetable for any two-city plan likely would hinge on striking a deal in the Tampa Bay area for a new stadium and finding a site.

The Rays are averaging 14,546 fans per game, second-lowest in MLB in 2019 despite a 43-31 record. Their Opening Day payroll of approximately $65 million also was among the lowest in the majors.

A variety of factors — relatively small local revenue and a comparatively bad local-TV deal among them — has prevented the Rays, who've needed taxpayer support, to secure a new stadium. If they can't get a domed stadium or make work the two-city plan that would inject much-needed revenue, then the Rays likely would become more of a target for relocation by other cities seeking an MLB team, Montreal likely among them.

Speculation about MLB's return to Montreal has percolated for years and reportedly has significant support among power-brokers in the city, including wealthy private-equity investor Stephen Bronfman, whose billionaire father, Charles, was the Expos' original owner.

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