- Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945 by J. Andrew Ross
Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945 discusses the business history of the sport, with a focus on industry figures, not on hockey stars. For example, the book cover has a hockey player from the Rangers but actually should feature a hockey businessman like Frank Calder to keep with the business focus of this hockey history. The author explores new territory very well with his approach. Also, interesting descriptions of business scandal, failure, labor lockouts, and corruption are featured. The author is comfortable calling the NHL a cartel, so this book is not NHL publicity, but it is balanced story telling. The NHL is shown as the complex league that is known today but in its infancy, with few unifying principles. The NHL becomes the emerging sovereign we know today only half way through the book, and many other interesting leagues inhabit the first half of the book. The NHL was not the inevitable face of professional hockey in North America, and the author explains how it came to that status. [End Page 136]
The book is well organized into seven chapters and 442 pages, including a solid 100 pages for appendix, notes, bibliography, and index. It opens with a powerful literature review of hockey books in the subject area with a strong inclusion of scholarly sources, excellent endnotes, bibliography, and analysis of historical primary materials from the early 1900s. As a researcher, this book is everything I would hope for in historical scholarship.
Some themes developed expertly in this book include, first, hockey as a laboratory to explore the themes of capitalism, cartels, mergers, contracts, and labor issues. The story ends before the rise of television in the history of hockey and leaves this reader wanting more. Second, nationalism is a strength of the book, and the parallels between baseball in the United States and hockey in Canada are drawn to reveal cross-fertilization. The transnational story of the sport compares American and Canadian practices in many areas. For example, the American owners of hockey teams were also baseball owners and looking for winter season sports spectacles during the baseball off-season. Third, the book describes the social context of hockey’s start in the St. Lawrence and Ottawa valleys as enhanced by trends in institutionalization, middle-class ideals, and subjugation of winter by modernity. The author shows how amateur hockey dominated the early years of hockey and provided a strong competitor to the professional hockey business model. The increasing dominance of urban and leisured culture (“bourgeois”) with money to spend as spectators is discussed. The book notes that new technologies in ice making were necessary for the development of the league outside the Montreal and Ottawa regions, as well as mass media development, particularly radio and newspaper. Sports facilities rose as never before as players in the business too. Next, interesting sport law themes develop around contracts, antitrust, and labor as they were evolving. For example, the author looks at the fate of the “option clause,” much like the baseball “reserve clause” tying a player unjustly to a club after separation. Using case law from that time strengthens this analysis significantly. Parallels to other sports leagues and nonsports business history of the early 1900s show that professional, elite hockey was not alone in these themes.
There is much more to this book, and I think the author does a great service. Joining the Clubs will appeal to readers of sports management literature as well as hockey fans. I hope the author continues with a second book on postwar NHL and the globalization of the sport from a perspective of sport management.