Tag Archives: hockey

An Open Data Inspired Holiday Gift to Montrealers

It turns out that Santa, with the help of some terribly two clever elves over at Montreal Ouvert has created an Open Data inspired present for Montrealers.

What, you must ask could it be?

It’s PatinerMontreal.ca

It’s a genius little website created by two Montreal developers – James McKinney and Dan Mireault – that scrapes the City of Montreal’s data on ice rink status to display the location and condition of all the outdoor ice rinks in the city.

What more could a winter bound montrealer ask for? Well… actually… how about being able to download it as an Android app to use on your smart phone. Yes, you can do that too thanks to another Montreal software developer: Mudar Noufal.

Here’s a screen shot of the slick web version (more on the project below the fold)

Creating this unbelievably useful application was no small feat. It turns out that the City of Montreal publishes the state of the outdoor hockey rinks every day in PDF format. While it is nice that the city puts this information up on the web, sharing it via PDF is probably the most inaccessible way of meeting this goal. To create this site the developers have to “scrape” the data out of these PDF files every day. Creating the software to do this is not only tedious, it can also be frustrating and laborious. In reality, this data was created with tax dollars and is encouraging the use of city assets. Making it difficult to access is unnecessary and counterproductive.

This is because if you can get the data, the things you can create (like PatinerMontreal.ca) can be gorgeous and far superior to anything the city offers. The City’s PDFs conveys a lot of information in a difficult to decipher format – text. Visualizing this information and making it searchable allows the user to quickly see where rinks or located in the city, what types of rinks (skating versus hockey) are located where, and the status of said rinks (newly iced or not).

My hope – and the hope of Montreal Ouvert – is that projects like this show the City of Montreal (and other cities across Canada) the power of getting data out of PDFs and shared in a machine readable format on an open data portal. If Montreal had an Open Data portal (like Vancouver, Nanaimo, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and others) this application would have been much easier to create and Montrealers would enjoy the benefit of being able to better use the services their tax dollars works so hard to create.

Congratulations to James, Dan and Mudar on such a fantastic project.

Happy Holidays to Montreal Ouvert.

Happy Holidays Montreal. Hope you enjoy (and use) this gift.

Anatomy of a Positional Negotiation (redux)

Back in March I wrote this post about the breakdown in negotiations between Ryan Smyth (a hockey star) and the Edmonton Oilers. Because things fell apart despite the fact that Smyth, the Oilers and their fans all wanted an agreement, this negotiation remains my favourite example about how process, and not substance, can torpedo agreements and destroy relationships. Indeed, the case is so good, it has become a key teaching tool in my negotiation workshops (when in Canada, of course…).

Interestingly, recent events have added to the important negotiation lessons that can be drawn.

When sharing the case some people contended that Smyth and the Oilers didn’t fall out but instead cut a secret deal, one that would bring Ryan back to Edmonton once he became a free-agent. The fact that, after being traded, Ryan stood crying in the Edmonton Airport while awaiting his flight to New York didn’t dissuade these doubters. This was of course, all part of the act.

Well, on July 2nd, on the first day of free-agency, Ryan Smyth signed a contract with the Colorado Avalanch for $31.25 million. A bad outcome for Oilers fans, but a good outcome for my credibility as a negotiation consultant.

So why didn’t Smyth go back to Edmonton?

I can think of two reasons – both of which spring from the positional negotiation process Smyth and the Oilers adopted.

Firstly, the previous negotiations permanently damaged relations between Smyth and the Oilers. A haggling process never builds a stronger relationship. It generally involves the parties slugging it out as they tell one another why the other’s current offer is insulting. Of course none of it’s “personal.” But isn’t it is telling that the Oilers broke off negotiations and traded Smyth without notifying him (I believe he learnt he’d been traded by watching TV). Moreover, as I mentioned before, Smyth was distraught enough to cry during the interview in the airport. You don’t have to be a negotiation consultant to know that when one person makes another cry, the agrieved party is looking for ways to work with them again. In this case, Smyth probably wasn’t receptive to any new offers from the Oilers. Their prior negotiation burnt that bridge.

Second, the Oilers painted themselves into a corner on the issue of price. I’ve maintained that Smyth probably wanted to be in Edmonton or Calgary. In the above linked to YouTube video Smyth says his heart is in Edmonton, and he probably wants to be close to family, community, charitable work, etc… I suspect he might have accepted a marginally reduced salary in order to stay there. But with other teams now offering over $31 million, the Oilers probably needed to offer $29-30 million in order to compete. Given their previous “best” offer had been $27 million, any new higher offer would be an admission that they’d undervalued Smyth. That left them with two options. Option 1: Eat humble pie, offer $30 million and admit they’d been lowballing Smyth. In the testosterone world of hockey I suspect the Oilers GM’s ego couldn’t stomach that choice… Not that it would have mattered, any such an offer would have been tainted. It would be like saying “sorry we tried to screw you in our previous negotiations, but we hope that you’ll come work for us now that we’ve been forced to offer you more.” That left option 2: Save face by walking away and claiming the Avalanch over-paid.

Of course, the Oilers’ GM may genuinely believe that Smyth isn’t worth $30 million. Who knows, he may be right. Only time will tell. But, the negotiation process he adopted – and not the substance – destroyed an opportunity for getting Smyth at a much lower price. Most people believe negotiations succeed or fail based on substance (can buyers and sellers agree on a price), sadly that is only sometimes the case. All too often, the determining factor is how we conduct negotiations.

The Smyth Deal: The Anatomy of a Positional Negotiation Gone Wrong

A classic negotiation challenge is when parties lock into positions. Both sides articulate a demand – usually followed a threat such as “take it or leave it” – and then hopes the other side blinks first.

In the case of Ryan Smyth and the Edmonton Oilers’ I can almost imagine each parties’ statement. Smyth’s agent probably declared “my player is worth $6M dollars not a penny less – take it or leave it.” While the Oiler representative said “we can afford $5M and not a penny more – otherwise, we’ll go to the trading block.” Then, with both sides locked into a price, two things probably happened. First, the negotiation was restricted to a discussion about money to the detriment of the parties numerous other interests. Second, any change in either parties’ position would cause them to lose credibility and/or face. Consequently, any progress in the negotiation would have paradoxically increased the level distrust by confirming each party’s suspicion that the other could and would bend more.

And of course, this is what happened. Smyth was willing to accept less, and the Oiler’s were willing to pay more. A fact made evident as they managed to haggle their way to a difference of $5.4M and $5.5M per year. But getting closer probably had the perverse effect of making the negotiation harder. Each concession made the subsequent ‘demands’ appear less credible and firm. So, to prove that this was indeed ‘their final offer’ each side had to appear more and more inflexible. The result? A negotiation that collapses over a disagreement of $100,000 a year or $500,000 over the life of the contract – about 1.8% of the deals’ monetary value. Oiler’s GM Ken Lowe’s statement this was “a hockey decision and not a financial decision’ is laughable. This was neither a hockey or a financial decision – it was en ego decision.

Indeed, a tearful Smyth was more honest. While getting on a plane at Edmonton International Airport he summed up the process by virtually pulling the definition of positional negotiation out of a textbook: “We were stuck in our concrete, they were stuck in theirs.” (Edmonton Journal) Interestingly, the very fact that Smyth was crying indicates that, while both parties were arguing over money, financial concerns probably only made up a small fraction of each party’s numerous and complex interests.

To contrast against their positions I’ve quickly brainstormed the following list of each party’s core interests:


Ryan Smyth’s Interests


Oiler’s Interests

  • Maximize (or receive fair?) compensation
  • Set precedent for future negotiations
  • Stay close to/not have to relocate, family
  • Maintain links to community
  • Play on winning team
  • Play on Stanley Cup contender
  • Profitable franchise
  • Increase franchise’s marketability
  • Increase personal marketability
  • Increase interest in hockey
  • Play in a market where hockey is a major sport
  • Minimize (or pay fair?) compensation
  • Set precedent for future negotiations
  • Profitable franchise
  • Field a winning team under the salary cap
  • Field a Stanley Cup contender
  • Increase franchise’s marketability
  • Increase Smyth’s personal marketability
  • Increase interest in hockey
  • Maintain/improve morale of team and fans
  • Strong positive presence in the community

As you can see, money makes up only one (albeit important) piece of the puzzle. But in both cases numerous other issues whose value cannot be easily quantified also factor importantly.

For example, one wonders if $100,000 a year (our of $5.4M!) was worth forgoing if it allowed Smyth’s to keep his family in Alberta and stay close to them (especially given the after tax value of the $100K). Smyth probably also had an interest in maintaining/continuing his community work in Edmonton, a place he likely genuinely considers home (unlike Long Island). Smyth probably also had an interest in ensuring that the Oilers have enough money under the cap to acquire other key players that would have given him the chance to hold up a Stanley Cup.

Meanwhile, the Oiler management likely have an interest in players that are marketable and increase the profile of the team in the community (which Smyth is uniquely positioned to do). One wonders how much the lost revenue from merchandising will cost the Oilers. In a small market a local town hero can be worth their weigh in gold (and then some).

The point is that Smyth and the Oiler’s had relatively few conflicting interests compared to those that were either common or simply different (but not conflicting). Had both parties looked at their full range of interests, and not focused almost exclusively on money, it’s hard to imagine that some creative value-increasing options were not possible. For example: the difference of $100,000 could have been donated to a charity of Smyth choice every year – thus helping Smyth’s marketability, improving both his and the Oiler’s standing in the community all while not contributing to the salary cap. Or the $100,000 could have been converted into bonus pay contingent on Smyth’s performance. Ultimately, two negotiators thinking creatively about this negotiation as a collective challenge, and not locked into an ego-driven game of chicken, could have found a deal. But then Smyth’s agent is probably rewarded based on the money he pulls down and the Oiler’s manager on how much money he saves, so in the end money drove the negotiations… right over the cliff.

[tags]NHL, negotitation, negotiating, Ryan Smyth, Oilers, Edmonton, mozilla, sports, hockey [/tags]