From 1969 to 2004, the Montreal Expos represented Canada in Major League Baseball’s National League. And then they moved to Washington, DC and the brand died after years of speculation and struggle.
When the Expos first came to Montreal as an expansion team in 1969 they signalled change and opportunity. They were the first team in Major League Baseball to play outside of the United States. And until 1977 (when the Toronto Blue Jays joined the American League) they were Canada’s only team.
And while the Expos never won a World Series, they did make the playoffs in 1981, and they held the best record in baseball on August 11, 1994 when the MLBPA went on strike and the season ended, cancelling the World Series that many people believed the Expos could have won.
There were many challenges over the brand’s 36 year life in la belle province, but the team built a legacy that began at Jerry Park, moved to Olympic Stadium, and included players like Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Vladimir Guerrero, Tim Raines, Larry Walker, and Pedro Martinez. But in 2004 the franchise moved, the Big O stood empty, and the brand died.
There were many reasons the Expos moved to Washington, including the strike in ‘94, the inability to get a new downtown baseball stadium built, the unwillingness of new ownership (Jeffrey Loria) to spend the money needed to keep the team in the city, and the disappointment and disillusionment of the fans who had invested 36 years in the brand without reaching their goals.
And while the brand died when the Expos moved about 600 miles south and became the Nationals, they remain an interesting study in brand community.
Walk down the street on a sunny summer day in Montreal or Quebec City, or even Toronto and you’ll see Montreal Expos caps and t-shirts. Walk into your local bookstore and look at the sports section and see if you can find books by Jonah Keri or Danny Gallagher and Bill Young. Or visit montrealbaseballproject.com and exposnation.com to see the work of some very dedicated and enthusiastic Expos fans doing everything they can to bring baseball, and the brand, back to Montreal.
Montreal has always, and will always be a hockey city, but since 2004 it has become more and more apparent that there are diehard baseball fans in the area, and they don’t want to cheer for the Toronto Blue Jays or the Washington Nationals, they want to cheer for the Montreal Expos.
Note: For the last three years the Toronto Blue Jays have travelled to Montreal to play two spring training exhibition games. Each game has drawn an average of nearly 50,000 fans, mostly from Montreal and the surrounding area, and has sparked belief that the city may be able to support a team of their own again in the future.
There are hurdles that need to be cleared of course, ownership will have to come forward, a new stadium will need to be built, and a current Major League Baseball team will need to relocate or MLB will need to expand. And while none of those things are guaranteed, there are a lot of baseball people who think that there is a good possibility that the Expos do return.
Until then though the Montreal Expos remain a dead brand with a dedicated brand community that holds onto memories and hope.