The push to get baseball back to Montreal soldiers on despite the hit live sporting events have had from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eric Boyko, chief executive officer of Stingray Digital Group Inc., said in an interview on Friday that talks persist to get a Major League Baseball presence in the city, even though many North American professional sports teams still play their games in empty stadiums and arenas.

“Even during the pandemic, my partner Stephen Bronfman has been working very hard and things are still moving along faster than I imagined,” Boyko said. “It’s always too early to say because the pandemic’s not finished, but I would say there’s been a lot of work behind closed doors and a lot of things moving forward.”

Boyko is one of many Montreal-based executives who have been linked to the push to get baseball back to the city, joining the aforementioned Bronfman, fellow Claridge Inc. executive Pierre Boivin, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. co-founder Alain Bouchard and former Cirque du Soleil chair Mitch Garber.

Bronfman’s father Charles was the majority owner of the Montreal Expos from their inception into the MLB in 1968 through 1990.

MLB allows Tampa Bay Rays to explore splitting home games with Montreal

Plagued by attendance issues, the Tampa Bay Rays have been given permission from Major League Baseball to explore the possibility of playing a split season as early as 2028. The split would see the team play early-season home games in Florida and the remainder in Montreal. That's hopeful news for Montreal baseball fans who have been longing for a return of the MLB after the league moved the troubled Expos team to Washington in 2005. Vanessa Lee of CTV News reports.

Montreal’s baseball culture has remained engaged since the Expos decamped to Washington D.C. in 2005 and rebranded as the Nationals. The city has hosted Toronto Blue Jays pre-season games since 2014 at Olympic Stadium, the Expos former home, drawing as many as 100,000 fans over a two-game series.

The Jays had been scheduled to once again play at the Big O in 2020, but the games were scrapped due to the onset of the pandemic.

In recent years, the city has been linked to the struggling Tampa Bay Rays in various relocation and game-sharing scenarios. The prospect of splitting the team’s games between Montreal and St. Petersburg, Fla. has a particular historical parallel, as the Expos shared home games with San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2003 and 2004. The Rays averaged fewer than 15,000 fans per game in 2018 and 2019.

However, the MLB has also just come off an unprecedented 2020 season that saw regular season games played without fans, many games postponed and some cancelled outright, an expanded playoff tournament played at neutral sites, and a World Series that ended with Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner getting pulled in the sixth inning of the deciding game due to a positive COVID-19 test.

The Blue Jays were also forced to play all of their 2020 home games at the stadium of their minor league Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y. due to cross-border travel restrictions. With those restrictions remaining in place, the team could once again play their home games remotely, whether in Buffalo or Dunedin, Fla.

However, Boyko tempered his own comments, noting MLB keeps a close ear on the Montreal rumour mill.

“As you know with baseball, they always listen to us everywhere we speak, so they’ll probably do a transcript on this,” he said.

“So, we’ve got to be very careful what we say because they don’t like it if we talk too much on radio, TV, or with the papers.”