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Fans cheers on the Montreal Expos during the team's final home game ever in Montreal against the Florida Marlins at Olympic Stadium, September 29, 2004. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)
Fans cheers on the Montreal Expos during the team's final home game ever in Montreal against the Florida Marlins at Olympic Stadium, September 29, 2004. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)

Blair: Montreal should make the most of exhibition baseball games Add to ...

There is nothing wrong with keeping a dream alive. Sometimes, it’s all you have.

But make no mistake: The two exhibition games the Toronto Blue Jays will play against the New York Mets in Montreal in March are nothing more than a nice break from the drudgery of spring training and a chance for some people to make some money.

Paul Beeston was only saying the politic thing Tuesday, when he remarked: “Hopefully, this is a blip and at some point in time, baseball will be back in this community.”

And that’s not to take anything away from the Blue Jays president and chief executive officer, because for two years he’s been saying he absolutely envisions Major League Baseball returning to Montreal at some time, just as it did in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Seattle and Kansas City.

Remember: this is a guy who sat at commissioner Bud Selig’s knee at one time, and still knows people who know people. But Beeston also knows the possible return of MLB to Montreal, which lost the Expos after the 2004 season, is a long time away.

The people who want baseball back in Montreal will tell you things have changed in their city. The economy is better than when the Expos left, and the Canadian dollar is healthier. Some of the dreamers foresee BCE Inc. subsidiary Bell Media getting involved in the pursuit of a team, as a means of creating content for TSN and future sports networks, just as Rogers Communications Inc. uses the Blue Jays as content on its various platforms.

The lack of a political champion at the civic or provincial level – something that played a role in the demise of the Expos almost as much as Jeffrey Loria’s ownership did, although nobody much talks about it because it’s a more difficult dialogue than “Evil American Steals Team” – can, they say, be overcome by a calculated business plan.

Those people may be right. But that misses the point. It doesn’t matter whether Montreal has changed; the bigger issue is that Major League Baseball has changed.

The game is flush with cash, powered by attendance in large markets, enhanced revenue streams from newer and in most cases team-owned stadiums, skyrocketing regional sports networks and a powerful online presence that is worth multibillions of dollars.

The average sale price of a team in 2005-07 was $269-million (U.S.). Since 2009, no team has sold for less than $615-million. And even the impoverished Tampa Bay Rays – the team everybody in Montreal is so eager to relocate to Quebec – was valued by Forbes at $451-million. The Oakland Athletics, who play in the worst facility of any North American professional sports team? They were valued at $468-million.

Beeston was asked last winter how much Rogers could get for the Blue Jays and Rogers Centre. “A billion, maybe more,” was his response.”

Know this: Whoever replaces Selig as commissioner isn’t going to let any team go for less than a premium over its value. Baseball will fund a franchise on its own before that happens because the value of each subsequent franchise sale is based on the price of franchises sold before it. Beyond that, nobody will get a major-league team on the “promise” of a new stadium. Not any more.

Sources in the commissioner’s office maintain a stadium will need to be done or nearly finished before a team is moved. And we haven’t even addressed, yet, the issue of whether an indemnification fee of some description would be due the Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays, who have already told the Montreal exhibition games promoter, Evenko, they will never play regular-season games there, could nonetheless argue Montreal constitutes part of its market, since they have dabbled with French-language TV and radio broadcasts, just as the Baltimore Orioles successfully argued with the Washington Nationals.

Yes, it would take a set of brass ones … but the Jays would be negligent if they didn’t take into account the impact on their market. More than ever, Major League Baseball is all about business. Sentiment plays no part.


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