While San Juan appears to be the longest of long shots to land the Montreal Expos franchise when it is expected to be relocated next year, Major League Baseball officials are nonetheless keeping an eye on what happens this year.
The financially plagued Expos, owned by MLB, are playing 22 of their 81 home games this season at Estadio Hiram Bithorn in San Juan. The first 10 were played last month-six more will be played in June and the last six in September-and so far only one of the games at the tiny 19,000-seat stadium was a sellout.
Still, the Expos drew far more fans during that 10-game homestand in Puerto Rico than they would have in Montreal, where attendance barely averaged 10,000 per game in 2002. Team President Tony Tavares said the Expos will earn at least $7 million from their 22 games in San Juan this year, compared to about $2 million if the same 22 games were played in Montreal.
More importantly, corporate sponsors jumped at the chance to follow. Radio Shack, PepsiCo and Toyota Motor Co. each paid several million dollars to subsidize the San Juan games. Whether that's enough to make San Juan a serious contender remains to be seen. For one, the city would need a new stadium. And it's doubtful that, with a per capita income of $650 a month, it would be able to support a team for 81 home games.
The leading contenders for the team are Portland, Ore.; Washington, D.C.; and northern Virginia.