The Political Economy of Arenas

16 09 2010

Andrew Ross, a business historian based at the University of Guelph, has posted some thoughts about the ongoing controversy about the proposals to use federal money to subsidize professional hockey arenas in Quebec. Ross has written an economic history of the NHL, so he can speak with some authority of this subject.

A couple of passages in his blog post caught my eye:

The lack of Canadian support for this aspect of the hockey business seems paradoxical given the general sense that Canadian government is more interventionist than American, and more willing to directly support business. (This is a big generalization, but no time to discuss here.) In sports, this is not the case.

Whenever state funding for arenas comes up, I think of my favourite character from the NHL’s history, Conn Smythe, who was the guiding force behind the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1927 to 1961 and the builder of Canada’s most famous arena, Maple Leaf Gardens. Smythe was a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative (Stephen Harper, take note) who could have been said to have been in favour of “small government” (in our current parlance) and was immensely proud that the Gardens had been built without any kind of state support whatsoever. (However, Smythe’s son and successor, Stafford, and his partner Harold Ballard followed the new American trend and tried to get municipal support for an Arena in Vancouver, but failed.)

Read more here.


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