The sports book Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945 (2015) 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 really 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 National Hockey League a cartel, so this book is not National Hockey League (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 single 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 American and the author explains how it came to that status.
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 US and Canadian practices in many areas.
The book notes new technologies in ice making were necessary for the development of the league outside of 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. Parallels to other sports leagues and non-sports 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 appeals to readers of sports management literature as well as hockey fans. I hope the author continues with a second book on post-war NHL and the globalization of the sport from a perspective of sport management.
Ross, J. A. (2015). Joining the clubs: The business of the National Hockey League to 1945. Syracuse University Press.
Review by Dr. Rob Hudson, Director of Library/Archivist, Assistant Professor, United States Sports Academy