Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




J.J.B. Forster


This is a study of the institutional development of the National Hockey League, the most dominant institution of twentieth-century ice hockey. It focuses on the first fifty years of the league (1917-1967), a period characterized by war and peace, by economic stability and recessions, and by momentous technological and cultural changes. Particular attention is paid to the way in which the league and its clubs successfully negotiated internal relationships among clubs, entrepreneurs, executives, and players; as well as external relationships to other professional leagues, amateur hockey organizations, the media, consumers, and the state.

The dissertation argues that sports businesses like the NHL evince special characteristics—cartel form, reserve clause, etc.—that arose both out of an economic concern with reducing transaction costs between clubs, and also in response to consumer demand for a product that provided cultural meaning. As a result, the NHL evolved a hybrid nature—both as a commercial enterprise and as cultural institution—that held an exceptional social and economic position abetted by society and the state. As such, the NHL and other similar sports leagues show how the cultural worth of a business, both for producers and consumers, can far transcend the mere economic value of the product. However, while themselves excellent examples of the interplay of economic and non­ economic influences, sports leagues are not necessarily unique in this respect, but support an argument that non-economic factors are crucial to the evolution of all business organizational forms.

The NHL’s institutional functions are further illuminated against the background of the different American and Canadian economic, political, and cultural contexts. This provides a rare study of transnational production, diffusion, and consumption of a product of the modern North American leisure economy, and speaks to the formation of identity, particularly by Canadian consumers, whose very conception of nationality was increasingly performed through consumption of the NHL product.



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