Rather than clapping their hands and stomping their feet,
Montreal Expos fans have a novel way of applauding. They kick
the metal seats in front of them. The abused seats, of course,
must be unoccupied, but that's usually a foregone conclusion at
Montreal's sepulchral Olympic Stadium. Through last weekend the
Expos were averaging 9,001 fans a game, less than 20% of
capacity. The upper deck is closed for most games. "It's
obviously a bad situation," says Hugh Hallward, a former Expos
co-owner. "Something has to give."
Indeed something will. Perhaps as soon as the All-Star break,
major league baseball will announce whether it agrees with the
assessment of team president and general partner, Claude Brochu,
that the Expos simply cannot thrive in Montreal. If so, MLB will
orchestrate a sale of the team, probably to an ownership group
in either Washington, D.C., or Charlotte. While no MLB franchise
has defected in nearly 30 years, patience is wearing thin for
the hapless Expos, who derive 70% of their $47 million (U.S.) in
gross revenues from leaguewide revenue sharing. "No one likes to
see teams move," says Giants' president and managing general
partner Peter Magowan. "But they've had time to get their act
together, and the situation still looks pretty bleak."
The Expos' relocation to les Etats-Unis was regarded as a done
deal as recently as this spring, but, in their last at bat,
Montreal's ownership group may have produced a game-winning
rally. The team's 13 limited partners have all turned against
Brochu and forged plans for constructing an outdoor stadium
downtown, funded by a blend of modest public monies, seat
licenses and corporate support. The Labatt Brewing Co. has made
a tentative commitment of $70 million that includes naming
rights, and the provincial government will pick up the tab for
interest payments on the stadium loan. The existing ownership
group would then buy out Brochu's interest for $15 million and
replace him with a new general partner, New York art dealer
Jeffrey Loria, who vows to bring roughly $50 million to the
table. With Loria's infusion of capital, the business plan calls
for the team to triple its payroll to $50 million within two
But this effort to keep the team in Montreal is not fail-safe.
The budget for the new ballpark has dwindled to $117 million,
about half the cost of the new stadium in Pittsburgh that will
open in 2001. Loria's bona fides have come under scrutiny, as
well. After failing in his bid to purchase the Orioles earlier
this decade, he scotched a deal to buy the Royals at the 11th
hour last year.
Still, as the commissioner's office reviews the plans for the
new ballpark and Loria's potential ownership, optimism prevails.
"This is a unique market, and we have passionate fans--they're
just tired of being told 'wait till next year,'" says Mark
Routtenberg, one of the Expos' limited partners. "If we get the
right venue, all the ingredients for being successful in
Montreal are there."
In that case, the stands will be more densely peopled, and the
fans will have to come up with a more decorous way of rooting for
the home team.
With average attendance below 20% of capacity, the upper deck is
closed for most games.