Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is Monterey still viewed as a potential big league city by American sports leagues?

Evan Weiner
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Is Monterey still viewed as a potential big league city by American sports leagues?

May 28, 2:40 PM

At one time, Monterey, Mexico was on the "A-List" of cities that could eventually house a Major League Baseball team. Former Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris was absolutely certain that Monterey would have been a perfect fit for the game. Monterey had some money; the city is located about two hours away by car from the Mexico-Texas border, it wasn't far from Major League teams in Arlington and Houston, Texas which meant a Monterey team would have rivals and the city had a rich baseball history in the Mexican League.

But McMorris and Major League Baseball officials were not looking at Monterey's baseball history back in the mid-1990s when the city emerged as a potential baseball market. Monterey was and still is Mexico's third largest city, Monterey's main business was and still is the steel industry but many multinational companies had and still have a significant footprint within the Monterey business community and the city's businesses had an awful lot of links to the United States. It was judged as recently as 2003 to be a better bet for sports franchise economic success than Mexico City, the largest market in North America.

During Major League Baseball's days of infatuation with Monterey, Fortune magazine listed the city as the best Latin American marketplace. That was in 1999. The same year that McMorris’ Rockies played the San Diego Padres in northeast Mexican city. It was the second Monterey trip for the San Diego baseball club. The Padres and the Mets played the team's opening series there of the 1996 season. Major League Baseball gave Monterey more than just a casual look.

By 2003, Major League Baseball was getting pressure from the United States Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza who suggested to Commissioner Bud Selig that Monterey host a quarter of the Major League Baseball-owned Montreal Expos 81 home games, about 20 contests, in Monterey in 2004. On October 21, 2003, California Congressman Bob Filner took to the House floor and said "it is time we include Mexico and make baseball the North American pastime."

Rep. Filner stated as his introduced a resolution before the House that "(Monterey) is one of the safest cities in Latin America" and that "it is the home to the Sultans of the Mexican League and the Sultans ballpark could be expanded to more than 30,000 seats."

The Congressman's remarks fell on deaf ears. Major League Baseball split Expos home games between Montreal and San Juan, Puerto Rico in both 2003 and 2004.

Major League Baseball did look at Monterey as a possible destination for the Montreal Expos franchise but the city was never a major contender for a team. In late 2004, Major League Baseball transferred Montreal to Washington to start play in 2005. Major League Baseball has not looked at Monterey since then. But Monterey is re-emerging this autumn as a destination for a pre-season National Basketball Association game as the league is sending Philadelphia and Phoenix to play an October game in the city.

No one is suggesting Monterey is on the NBA's expansion/relocation market list should the league decide to add more teams or move a struggling franchise. It appears that a local promoter came up with the right contract and money and the NBA was impressed enough to reach an agreement to play a pre-season contest in Monterey for the first time since 2006. NBA Commissioner David Stern and most of his owners don't mind sending teams to Europe or China to expand marketing opportunities and a one night stand in Monterey appears to fit into that category.

Why didn't Monterey become a Major League Baseball city? The best guess is that it didn't have the critical elements that a United States city could offer, which is government support for a new or renovated stadium with luxury boxes and club seats, a massive local cable TV contract and huge corporate support with companies buying tickets and writing them off as a business expense. Monterey could not put together a money package that could compete with United States cities bidding for the Montreal franchise. In the end, Washington was the only city that aggressively went after the Expos franchise. The love affair with Monterey was just one of those passing fancies.

Would Major League Baseball been able to financially compete in Monterey? The answer is no based on the fact that the Montreal franchise ended up in Washington and that Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria kicked the tires in San Antonio and Las Vegas while he was searching for a city that would build him a stadium for his Florida Marlins. Loria got his publicly funded park in Miami. Oakland A's owner Lewis Wolff tried to build a stadium as part of a stadium village complex down the I-880 in Fremont and after failing there, he is asking if baseball knows the way to San Jose, California, not far from Monterey, California.

Monterey, Mexico's business community spends a lot of money on the city's two football (soccer) teams and while two baseball series were relatively successful in 1996 and 1999, that should not be viewed as the launching pad to Major League Baseball. Ticket prices back then were cheaper than what they are in 2009 and Monterey is not considered the safest city in terms of crime in Latin America anymore.

All of this doesn't mean that Monterey should be overlooked as a sports city on a global scale. The NBA is in the business of not only putting a game on the court but selling T-shirts, hats and anything else that can fit a logo of the league or individual teams and the league will have willing customers to buy whatever items the league is playing to sell even though neither Philadelphia nor Phoenix are among the league's glamour teams.

Monterey has never gone after a National Football League franchise but at the same time city officials were dancing with Major League Baseball, businessmen from the area were pitching a plan to build a stadium near the Texas-Mexico border with the hope of drawing interest from consumers on both sides of the border. Nothing ever came of the idea. It is doubtful that Major League Soccer would have any interest in setting up shop in an area that is dominated by football (soccer).

Monterey never might ever get an NBA or a Major League Baseball franchise, however the city is planning a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics and the city hosts a women's tennis tournament. There have also been other international sports events held in the city.

There are no Jerry McMorris's, Tony Garzas or Bob Filners pushing Monterey today as a Major League Baseball city. The global recession is not showing any real signs of abating which doesn't help Monterey's big league aspirations and the United States Department of State's warning to American citizens to exercise caution when traveling to Mexico because of Mexico's violent drug trade can not be construed as a positive for Monterey.

The NBA is going to Monterey on a one night stand and that should bring up the question, is Monterey, Mexico still viewed as a potential major league sports city? The answer might come sometime in October.

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