On Sept. 30, 2004, it was announced that Major League Baseball’s Montreal Expos were headed for Washington D.C.
The Canadian team that joined the MLB in 1969 had struggled throughout its existence. The franchise only clinched a playoff berth one time (1981) while in Montreal.
In 2003, the Expos finished near the bottom of the National League East Division, coming in with an 83–79 record. They were a total of 18 games behind the Atlanta Braves who took the division crown that season.
During their final season in 2004, things got even worse. Montreal was dead last in the NL East with a 67–95 record, were 29 games behind the first-place Braves, and were the fourth-worst team in the MLB.
However, the ultimate decision to move the team boiled down to politics — specifically in the form of media coverage, which in turn affects the economy of the league.
There are very few major cities in the United States close to Canada’s northeast border. Buffalo is an exception but, considering they don’t have an MLB team, many residents of northern New York and Vermont were Expos fans due to proximity.
Unlike in today’s world of streaming, sports broadcasts were limited to television and radio. Due to the Expos being in Montreal, only Canadian stations broadcasted games. Technically, all of New York fell under the banner of Yankees broadcasts while Vermont was handed Boston Red Sox broadcasts.
Expos broadcasts were available over the border in the form of radio but not television. Many fans in the northern United States — which Montreal depended on — were unable to follow their beloved team. Thus, Montreal’s market dwindled.
The move to D.C. gave the franchise a more concrete and accessible market, and the Washington Nationals have seen much more success than their predecessor.