Remember the Montreal Expos? Well, there's a slight chance that they return to Montreal. Just last Sunday, a huge group of over 1,000 Expos fans took over Rogers Centre in Toronto in hopes of bringing back the Expos. These fans are part of a large and growing group called Expos Nations.
After the game, Matthew Ross, a leader of the organization, released the following statement via the Associated Press:
"Our goal is to celebrate the history of the Expos and show that there is still a viable market for it," said Matthew Ross, who runs the website Expos Nation and helped organize the trip.
It's been almost 10 years since the Expos moved to Washington D.C., but the possibility of the Expos returning to Montreal has been a recurring topic throughout Montreal. In fact, it has even been brought up on local talk radio shows.
Some Expos History
Located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the Expos were the first MLB franchise North of the border. They remained there from 1969 until 2004, when they moved to Washington D.C. and became the Washington Nationals. Until the early 80s, the franchise never really kicked off, but even then, they only managed to win 1 division title in 1981. Other than that, they never even made the playoffs.
In 1994, they had the best record in baseball, but then the strike hit, so that went to waist. After the 1994 season, the Expos started trading away most of thier star players, and that's when their attendance really took a hard hit.
In 1999, the team was sold to Jeffrey Loria (current owner of the Marlins), but after failing to build a new downtown stadium and failing to reach a television agreement, they decided to try something else.
By 1999, just over 9,000 fans were attending each game, so in November of 2001, the Expos tried to relocate to the Metrodome in Minnesota. Unfortunately for them, the Twins won that battle, which kept the Expos in Montreal. There was always the option to just eliminate the Expos all together, but in doing so, they wouldn't be able to preserve the 162-game schedule, so that wasn't an option.
Just a month later, the Boston Red Sox accepted a purchase bid from a group lead by John W. Henry, owner of the Florida Marlins, so Henry sold the Marlins to Jeffrey Loria (pictured below) and the MLB preceded to buy the Expos from Loria.
Eventually, on September 24th, 2004, the MLB announced the Expos relocation to Washington D.C. for the 2005 season. The Washington team was named the Washington Nationals and retained everything belonging to the Expos (players, spring training facility, etc.)
Why the Expos Could Actually Return
Although they have had some very successful season, when it comes to attendance, the Rays are starting to look a lot like the Expos. In their first season in 1998, the Rays averaged nearly 31,000 fans per game, but since then those numbers have dropped significantly. Last year, just over 19,000 fans attended each game on average. In response to these attendance records, the Rays have tried several times to relocate the stadium, but nothing seems to be working out for them.
Many aspects of the Rays franchise have led to talks of relocation. For instance, they have a horrible stadium, and it's in a horrible location. Like the Expos, the Rays have had many difficulties trying to relocate their stadium, so their best option might be to do what the Expos did and switch countries.
While it might not make the most sense to bring the Expos back to Montreal, at one point, the city did have a viable fan base. Also, considering the fact that the Blue Jays (another Canadian team) are still around, it's safe to say that the infrastructure still exists.
Which League Would the Expos Join?
One issue in bringing back the Expos is determining which league to put them in. Obviously they would be in an Eastern Division, but the MLB would have to determine whether they would be in the AL East or NL East. During their 35 year existence, they played for the NL, but since they would be replacing the Rays, it probably makes the most sense for them to become an AL team.
However, diehard Expos fans would probably prefer to see their extinct team return just as they left, in the National League. Unfortunately though, they probably wouldn't be able to be in the NL because it would mean the NL East having 6 teams, while the AL East would have just 4. Up until this season, the NL central had 6 teams, while the AL West had 4, but the MLB probably wouldn't want to bring back that type of scenario.
Unfortunately for the MLB, that could actually end up being the only possible scenario. The Blue Jays are already in the American League, so it's doubtful that the MLB would allow Canada to have 2 AL teams and not a single NL team.
Bringing back the Expos franchise would be very risky, but with the right marketing and a dedicated fan base, it might actually work. Expos Nations is quickly growing organization, so even if the MLB doesn't want to bring back the Expos, they may end up having no choice. If the Expos are reborn, it will likely mean an end to the short lived Tampa Bay Rays. However, in the long run, relocating the Rays to Montreal could end up being the best financial decision for Rays ownership, along with the MLB.