- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2002

The Montreal Expos, as we all now know, are headed to San Juan, Puerto Rico, next year for 22 of 81 home games. The unusual situation the result of Major League Baseball's still-ongoing deliberation on the team's long-term future creates two home cities, two home stadiums, two marketing offices and two of almost everything else in the team's business operations.
Even before the San Juan-Montreal Expos play a single game at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, sports industry executives and analysts widely expect the two-headed franchise to be a harbinger of the future. With dozens of major sports teams bleeding millions in red ink, a still-wobbly economy and a Canadian dollar less than two-thirds as strong as its American counterpart, more dual-city teams may be a fixture of the near future.
Other potential pairings include Calgary and Portland, Ore., Ottawa and Buffalo, and Atlanta and Nashville, Tenn., in hockey, and Miami and San Juan in baseball.
"The basic, current economic model in sports is, for all intents and purposes, broken," said Jeff Citron, a sports and corporate finance lawyer for Goodmans LLP in Toronto and a former attorney for the NHL Players Association. "So what do you do? We've seen some teams try new things like variable ticket pricing. Splitting a team among two cities, I think, is another potential solution. Instead of trying to get fixes in a new labor deal, which really deal more with expenses, something like this directly addresses revenue.
"You have half as many games in each city, which makes a season ticket more affordable. If the team being split is from Canada, you're turning half your dollars from Canadian to American, which makes a huge difference. New opportunities for both television and corporate sponsorship get opened up," Citron said.
Sports fans have seen several anecdotal examples of two-city franchises before. The Green Bay Packers, for many years, played several home games each season in Milwaukee. For three seasons in the early 1970s, the NBA Kings, who now call Sacramento home, split time between Kansas City and Omaha, Neb. The Pittsburgh Steelers briefly merged in separate occasions with Philadelphia and Chicago and split home games during World War II.
Already, fans in San Juan are thrilled with the arrival of the Expos next year and will fill the 20,000-seat stadium for many, if not most, of the 22 dates there. The Expos are a lame duck in Montreal, but if the team continues to improve and the weather cooperates with the dates in Montreal now geared more toward midsummer, MLB executives hope for a slightly better showing in Quebec than 2002's league-worst draw of 10,031 a game.
To date, none of the four major leagues is actively considering a dual-city franchise, aside from the Expos in 2003. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said repeatedly he is committed to maintaining all 30 of the league's teams in their current markets.
The dual-city franchise idea is also rife with logistical complications. Which city is listed in standings? Who gets any home playoff games? How is non-local revenue, such as shares of national TV contracts, divided? What kind of hardships are brought upon players and team executives who have to maintain two residences? What about debt-laden buildings like Ottawa's Corel Centre that need every possible event date on the calendar? Doesn't splitting a franchise between two cities kill any long-term chances of a new or renovated facility in which to play? What about the affront of basic civic pride created by sharing a team with another, and perhaps smaller, burg?
"This idea is by no means without issues," Citron said. "But in most cases, these are resolvable, particularly when you approach this as a means to increase aggregate revenue and expand the fan base."
And there is the broader issue of sports leagues and how they enter new markets. When a league enters a new market, either by relocation or expansion, it is usually done only after a systematic study and auction process designed to generate the greatest windfall for that league. In other words, each new market is considered a major asset, not to be given away or treated lightly.
"It's very hard for me to believe than any major pro team is going to be allowed to annex an additional piece of geography without paying a premium [to the league]," said Craig Tartasky, a Bethesda-based sports marketing executive. "And you have the networks to consider, too. If you're taking, say, Miami, a top-20 media market in the country, and splitting that with San Juan, which isn't even on the [U.S.] Nielsen list, what are doing to the value of your relationship with the broadcaster?"
Despite all those complications, proponents of the dual-city concept say it will continue to advance simply because all-out extinction may be the only other alternative. In just the last year, Major League Soccer, the Arena Football League and the WNBA have shed teams, and the wave of franchise foldings is not expected to end anytime soon.
"There's a harsher reality awaiting some of these teams without significant changes," Citron said. "Is going from 41 home games to 20 or from 81 to 40 ideal? No. But as long as you've got some games, I still think there is a large segment of fans that will be more than satisfied."

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