Toronto Blue Jays: Return of Montreal Expos baseball bad for business?

MONTREAL - MAY 24: A general view of the Olympic Stadium prior to the MLB game between the Atlanta Braves and the Montreal Expos May 24, 2004 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Charles Laberge/Getty Images)
MONTREAL - MAY 24: A general view of the Olympic Stadium prior to the MLB game between the Atlanta Braves and the Montreal Expos May 24, 2004 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Charles Laberge/Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Blue Jays will once again return to play exhibition games in Montreal, but could a potential return of Expos baseball have an impact on “Canada’s Team?”.

For the fifth straight spring the Toronto Blue Jays will host a pair of exhibition games at Olympic Stadium. This year they will host the St. Louis Cardinals in the last two games before the 2018 season begins.

It has been an interesting year for baseball in Montreal:

MARCH 31/APRIL 1 – 98,382 fans show up for two exhibition games between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

JULY 10 – MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred says that Montreal would be a “great candidate” for an expansion team.

SEPTEMBER – News breaks that Montreal businessman Stephen Bronfman (son of original Expos owner Charles Bronfman) hired an architect to render designs for a new downtown ballpark.

SEPTEMBER 29 – Marked the 14th anniversary of the Expos last game at Olympic Stadium.

The discussion has even entered Montreal’s mayoral race.

Incumbent mayor Denis Coderre has been a strong proponent of bringing back the Expos and building a suitable replacement for the Big O. But his main opponent is this year’s campaign, Valerie Plante, is weary of using public funds to build the new home of the Expos.

"“We aren’t against the return of a baseball team to Montreal,” she said. “Rather, we are against wasting public funds and the lack of transparency that characterizes Denis Coderre, who seems ready to give a blank cheque of public money without citizens having a word to say about it.”"

Despite Coderre leading Plante by about five-percent in the latest polls she has proposed a referendum on the matter if she wins.

Would Expos be good for Blue Jays business?

Ever since Montreal played their last game at Shea Stadium in the fall of 2004, Toronto has become ‘Canada’s team.’

Originally it was merely a fact that the team was the last one standing in the great white north, but since than the club has embraced and promoted the title. Rogers has essentially gained a monopoly over baseball in this country, in terms of TV ratings and ticket sales.

So would a return of Canada’s original MLB team be good for business?

When Toronto started its bid to get an expansion team, Expos President John McHale was a staunch supporter.

"“I’m fighting like hell to get Toronto a franchise,” McHale said in 1975. “It would be great for us up here (in Montreal).”"

Expos enthusiast and Sportsnet contributor Jonah Keri wrote about Montreal’s demise in his 2014 book Up, up and away.

"“What McHale might’ve seen as an opportunity for a healthy rivalry, or a chance to further stoke baseball fervour in Canada to the benefit of the Expos, turned out to be something different altogether. The Blue Jays, in fact, would eventually help kill the Expos.”"

Keri goes onto explain that the Jays pressured the league to drive Montreal out of the lucrative southern Ontario television market. Expos owner Charles Bronfman pleaded the MLB commissioner to allow his team to continue to broadcast in what was deemed Blue Jays territory.

"“I spoke to (Commissioner) Bowie Kuhn and said, ‘Look if you don’t permit us to televise across the country – we’re Canada’s team right now – what you’re going to do is, you’re going to ghettoize us, and we’ll just become the French team, and the Blue Jays will become the national team.” Bronfman said. “This is contrary to every goddamn reason I (agreed to own) the Expos. “I did it to integrate Quebec into Canada. Now you’re going to ghettoize us, to separate Quebec?”"

Obviously the broadcasting landscape has changed since the mid-1980s, when Bronfman made this declaration, but the concern of no longer being ‘Canada’s team’ is relatable to the Blue Jays.

Toronto wouldn’t be ‘ghettoize’ in Canada but a quick lock at the national demographics could be cause for concern for the Blue Jays.

As it stands Rogers essentially has a baseball monopoly over the more than 35 million people in Canada.

But Quebec makes up nearly a quarter of that population and if you add Canada’s four Atlantic provinces to that mix, there are nearly 10.5 million Canadians that would be at risk of jumping over to Canada’s eastern most team. And these numbers do not include other Francophones in Canada, that may be drawn to a team from French-Canada.