April 1, 2014 2:11 pm
Updated: April 1, 2014 8:05 pm

MLB team in Montreal? Not anytime soon, say economists

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Despite incredible fan support, it’s unlikely Montreal will see a Major League Baseball (MLB) team anytime soon.

That’s according to an analysis by the Conference Board of Canada examining the economics of fielding a pro team in Montreal.

The analysis, published in a new book Power Play: The Business of Economics in Pro Sports, highlights two major roadblocks: the lack of a level playing field among MLB franchises and the need for a new stadium.

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“Montreal today has the necessary market conditions to be home to an MLB franchise, but the competitive conditions in baseball make it non-appealing to most potential investors,” said economist Mario Lefebvre, co-author of Power Play.

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

According to the authors, Montreal would be hard pressed finding investors with deep enough pockets to bankroll a team that would likely sit in the bottom of MLB teams, in terms of salary caps.

Basing their estimates on 2013 figures, a new Montreal team would have a player payroll cap of around $65 million – compare that to the 2013 payrolls of the New York Yankees ($229 million) and Los Angeles Dodgers ($216 million), the gap between the richest and poorest MLB teams becomes apparent (2013 numbers were based on figures calculated by The Associated Press).

The MLB’s lack of a hard salary cap creates a “financial playing field that is not levelled among” the clubs, according to the Conference Board analysis.

It also estimates an initial investment of more than $1 billion would be needed to build a new stadium. A 2013 study by the Montreal Board of Trade pegged the cost for a new stadium at $500 million.

Power Play authors Lefebvre and Glen Hodgson argue that a new stadium would be required for major league baseball to work again in Montreal.

Olympic Stadium’s roof is deteriorating with maintenance fees in 2013 alone reportedly hitting $800,000.

After the Expos moved to Washington D.C. in 2004, Olympic Stadium was left without a primary tenant.

Former Expo fans packed “The Big O” on the weekend to watch a two-game exhibition series between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets.

A total of 96,350 people attended the two games, many of them chanting “Let’s go Expos” and “We want baseball.”

The event was organized by concert promoter Evenko and the Montreal Baseball Project, headed by former Expos outfielder Warren Cromartie, to drum up support for the MLB’s return to Montreal.

Those attending the weekend pre-season games were more optimistic than the Conference Board analysis about the prospect of baseball’s return to the city.

Warning that a new franchise wouldn’t happen overnight, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said the weekend games showed a lot of promise. “We have to be realistic about it, we showed a lot tonight, it’s going to be amazing,” said Coderre.

“Long term is good, because there’s a willingness,” added former Expos announcer Rodger Brulotte. “There’s a willingness with the business world, there’s a willingness with the fans. The next thing to see is if there’s a willingness with Major League Baseball.”

With files from Global News’ Billy Shields and Domenic Fazioli

© 2014 Shaw Media

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