Rays' 'Sister City' Concept Is Dead: MLB Shoots Down Proposal

After nearly three years of floating the idea of a "Sister City" concept, Rays owner Stu Sternberg's master plan is dead.

Per JP Peterson of "The JP Peterson Show", the MLB killed the plan for the Rays to play a split season in Tampa Bay and Montreal Thursday. Sternberg held a press conference at 1 p.m. ET Thursday to formerly announce the news.

"Recently, it took a turn to the south, and we don't know why. But MLB was not prepared to go forward with it," Sternberg said.

Sternberg emphasized the Rays would continue to exhaust all avenues to keep baseball in the Tampa Bay region moving forward.

"We're certainly exploring things in the Tampa Bay region," Sternberg said. "Our goal is to keep it here for generations."

The proposed plan would have allowed the Rays to play the first half of the season in Tampa Bay in a new stadium in Ybor City, before the team would head north to finish the season in Montreal. It would have taken place after the 2027 season, when the Rays' lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg would be up. The plan seemed ambitious, albeit, unlikely at the time of its announcement.

The Rays have had their fare share of attendance issues, ranking in the bottom three of attendance in the MLB in every season since 2011.

"Consistently, we're 29th in attendance with a decade of excellence," Sternberg said. "I understand we're not going to be top 10, but it would be ideal that off a 100 win season, we'd like to see a rise."

Just a few months ago, at an event called "Café Con Tampa", Rays co-president Brian Auld said that full-time baseball in Tampa Bay was no longer on the table. Auld asked Rays fans to keep an open mind, as several fan groups and thousands of fans lambasted the idea.

“This is why I am asking everyone to keep an open mind,” Auld said. “When you look at the over 20 years of data we have on Tampa Bay, when you look at the demographics in the region, the distances that separate our wonderful cities, when you ask the hard questions, we concluded that it’s next to impossible for baseball to succeed in Tampa Bay today.

“We’re not missing by a few thousand people a night. We are less than half of where we need to be with an absolutely incredible team.”

That was back in October.

Twelve days ago, however, 39 business leaders and CEOs in Tampa Bay penned a letter to the Tampa Bay Times, announcing their support for the "Sister City" plan.

"We endorse the leadership and membership of the three prominent regional chambers who supported this Sister City Baseball plan and the construction of an open-air neighborhood ballpark in Historic Ybor City," the letter reads. "The site would serve as home not only for the Rays during the first portion of the season, as well as for half the postseason games, but also as home of the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

"The new multi-use facility would be an economic development platform to host national sporting events, concerts and community gatherings, similar to the versatility of Amalie Arena. It would also help spark development in and around Ybor like replicating what other successful urban ballparks like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field have done across the country.

"After many years of analysis and conversations, the time has come to prioritize a new home for our Tampa Bay Rays on terms that the current market frames — a shared season in an intimate neighborhood venue, with the benefits of a lasting connection to Montreal and its fans who will come visit here and make Tampa Bay a destination of choice for tourism and commerce."

Auld spoke with the Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin Thursday, and said there wasn't a Plan B for the Rays before the MLB shot the idea down.

“It’s no secret that as of now we don’t know where we’re playing on opening day of 2028. We don’t have a plan. There wasn’t a Plan B,” Auld said. “We certainly need to hurry up with this, and I believe we’ve got a lot of great partners in this community that want to see us be successful. We look forward to engaging in conversations with them in the very near future.”

Jane Castor, mayor of Tampa, said in a tweet that she's optimistic full-season baseball can still be an option in Tampa Bay.

"All along our goal has been to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay," Castor wrote. "We had been working on both sister city and full season proposals, and now we can focus all of our energy on a full season. I am optimistic @RaysBaseball will call Tampa Bay home for many years to come."

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Nick Geddes is a 2021 graduate of the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. A life-long sports enthusiast, Nick shares a passion for sports writing and is proud to represent OutKick.