The actual financial benefit generated by a professional sports team for its host city is open to debate. Typically, flinty-eyed economists fall on one side of the argument ("There is none"), with fans and entrepreneurs on the other ("Oh lighten up, you cold fish").
There is no argument over the psychic benefit. You can reach out and touch it. We witnessed it here with the San Francisco Giants last fall. You can see it at work in Green Bay where the Packers are a civic institution.
This week we saw it in Montreal.
Background: There was to be an important French-language debate in Canada on Thursday, involving representatives of four political parties televised by a broadcast consortium. Important matters were on the docket--unemployment, the environment, majority vs. minority government, Canada's military presence in Afghanistan.
Then the NHL released its postseason schedule. It had the Montreal Canadiens hosting the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of their playoff series on Thursday night.
The politicos quickly grasped the gravity of the situation. New Democratic Party head Jack Layton surmised that "a very large number of people" would watch the game instead of the debate.
"Were I not in this election," he added, "I might well make the same decision."
Apparently lame jokes are part of the landscape of Canadian politics, too.
Upshot: The debate was moved to Wednesday. Canadiens fans forced politicians to conform to their desires. You can't put a price tag on something like that.
It appears from a distance that Canadian politics are not so different from our own. Times are tough. Money's tight. There are difficult decisions at hand. As a bonus, we're treated to the sights and sounds of stern-faced elected officials so intent on cramming their ideology down each other's throats that they forget who hired them in the first place.
Imagine how empowering it must have been for the people of Montreal to say: "Take a hike, you gasbags. We have a hockey game to watch."
But wait, there's more. A Canadian polling service surveyed viewers to gauge their reaction to Wednesday's debate (and an English language debate held Tuesday). As part of the study, viewers were given a pad and asked to press buttons based on whether they were feeling annoyed, interested, happy or disturbed as they watched the proceedings.
"I have never seen this level of annoyance in any other content testing we've done with this tool," said a vice president with the polling firm.
The Canadiens scored a somewhat higher approval rating Thursday with their 2-0 victory over Boston. That's in ideology all right-thinking Canadians can get behind.