It’s Just Business

When I began thinking about my research question and what I wanted to focus my final project on, I thought it would be interesting to do a close analysis of the different ways in which hockey is consumed. Originally I wanted to make one of my main focuses of investigation about how the consumption of the sport is highly racialized. Surprisingly, I found that there was an underwhelming amount of scholarly studies on how ice hockey is an elite sport that is primarily dominated by Caucasians. As I did more research, I found that there was a wealth of information on how the sport has changed from its inception in Canada to the status of one of the top five elite sports in America. This prompted me to refine my research question to: How has the growth and expansion of hockey from Canada influenced the way in which it consumed? Based on my close reading of these articles, I would like to propose that the modern consumption of hockey is primarily a result of profit-driving motivations from executives within the league, owners of franchises, and other prominent stakeholders.

The first article, “Practical Nostalgia and the Critique of Commodification: On the ‘Death of Hockey’ and the National Hockey League” by Philip Moore, helped historicize what seems to be an ongoing debate about the commercial direction in which hockey is headed. The author begins by making a comparison of some of the monetary figures associated with the game citing that, “[w]hen the NHL moved towards expansion in 1997 there was no shortage of applications, even though the cost of each of the four new franchises was set at US$80 million (Meagher 1998:135). More recently, when a controlling interest of 80.1% of the Montreal Canadiens changed hands, the price was about $280 million” (Moore 310). Although the amounts he gives for average player salaries for the present day is less shocking when compared to other professional, elite athletes, it is no less demonstrative of the move that the NHL has taken toward becoming increasingly focused on revenue generation. The league doubled in size from six teams to twelve in the mid-1960s, marking the moment in which serious, continued expansion began (310). The author emphasizes the fact that there is less of a focus on the culture and tradition behind each franchise, as they ownership and relocation changes happen often. In order to demonstrate the main argument that the NHL now functions as a business, he references two different works: one by Canadians who grew up with hockey integrated into their lifestyles and another by American ice hockey fans who have witnessed recent structural changes.

The second article, “Constructing the Preferred Spectator: Arena Design and Operation and the Consumption of Hockey in 1930s Toronto” by Russell Field, helps to set the stage in which women were first introduced to the sport of ice hockey. Through this author’s analysis of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ stadium construction, he is able to show how the consumption of ice hockey has been systematically gendered for an extremely long time. Field focuses his article on Conn Smythe, one of the executives of Maple Leaf Gardens who designed their venue with the particular goal of transforming the sport into a respectable pastime. The author mentions three distinct ‘spaces’ that allowed for the construction of the ‘preferred spectator’: “the exterior of the arena and its situation within 1930s Toronto; the architectural design of the interior; and finally the ways […] in which Maple Leaf Gardens was operated” (Field 651, 652). During the time in which the stadium was being built, there were several reforms going on that focused on the use of public spaces to convey messages about Christian, middle-class society; sports fell under these reforms as muscular Christianity and organizations like the YMCA exemplify (652). This reorganization of social space saw the movement of the arena to an area that was dominated by stores targeted toward women, shopping, and consumerism. Field cites a line from the New York Chronicle from 1867, which was several decades before the stadium construction, which stated: “‘the presence of an assemblage of ladies purifies the moral atmosphere’ and suppresses ‘the outburst of intemperate language which the excitement of the contest so frequently induces’” (655). Despite the reforms that were taking place, this overriding notion of women as gentle, soft presences remained firm. He would ultimately achieve these means through the introduction of women into the arena and the various roles they would end up playing, keeping males in check by accompanying them or attending to them as ushers. Through the introduction of a different gender, and the intentional classing of spectators in attendance, it was expected that the profits would increase dramatically.

The third article, “Blood Sports and Cherry Pie: Some Economics of Violence in the National Hockey League” by J. C. H. Jones, D. G. Ferguson, and K. G. Stewart, is an analysis of the ways in which violence is consumed and how it does or does not drive ticket sales, interest, and attendance of hockey games. The authors begin by noting two of, what they consider to be, the most important effects of violence in ice hockey. The first factor that they view as problematic is the idea that just because the violence is taking place in the form of sport does not mean that athletes should not receive protection from the law for such actions. The second component of violence in hockey they see as concerning to the public is the effect of violence on spectators outside of the arena in and more social, less organized spheres (Jones, et al. 64). They highlight a notable clash between the NHL, which sanctions violence to a certain extent in order to entertain audiences, and the courts, which have failed to adequately address the issue (64). They focus their work on the testing of “the ‘blood sport’ hypothesis that there is a positive relationship between NHL team violence and game attendance, and second, to test the sub-hypothesis that violence is positively associated with American, not Canadian, spectators” (65). Through the use of an empirical model, they were able to conclude that the relationship between violence and attendance was positive. However, the more extreme forms of violence saw a spike in American attendance and, thus, the ‘blood sport’ phenomenon they mention is predominantly American (66).

 

Sources:

Field, Russell. “Constructing the Preferred Spectator: Arena Design and Operation and the Consumption of Hockey in 1930s Toronto.” The International Journal of the History of Sport 25.6 (2008): 649-77. T and F Online, 8 Apr. 2008. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3487636&gt;.

Jones, J. S. C. H., D. G. Ferguson, and K. G. Stewart. “Blood Sports and Cherry Pie: Some Economics of Violence in the National Hockey League.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 52.1 (1993): 63-78. JSTOR. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3487636&gt;.

Moore, Philip. “Practical Nostalgia and the Critique of Commodification: On the ‘Death of Hockey’ and the National Hockey League.” The Australian Journal of Anthropology 13.3 (2002): 309-22. Web.

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One Response to It’s Just Business

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    Good sources for your revised research question. I like how the sources give a variety of perspectives that will deepen your analysis. Knowing history and contemporary phenomenon makes for a good based to investigate further. As you move this project forward, it would be worth considering how your original concerns about the whiteness of the sport may play into or relate to the findings you see in these articles.

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