Friday, January 12, 2007

The missing all-star votes

In case you've missed the news, there's just a wee bit of controversy over the final ballot totals in the case of the Rory Fitzpatrick business. As in, some appear to be missing.

Tyler Dellow has what is probably the best summary of where the irregularities occurred, and I've taken his data and created this chart which shows how the voting proceeded. (Recall that the drop-off in votes for Rory declined sharply after he appeared on the front page of publications such as The Globe and Mail and USA Today and received big-time play with ESPN and other popular online destinations.)

What occurred in Week 5 was a strange distribution in the number of votes for Western Conference forwards and defencemen. The NHL's vote system was setup so that every voter was forced to pick three forwards, two defencemen and one goaltender from each conference, meaning the ratio for forwards to defencemen should always equal 3:2.

In Week 5, as Dellow points out, this ratio shifts to 3.53:2 — a difference that would account for more than 100,000 votes for Western Conference defencemen not counted.

This in the same week Fitzpatrick's totals fall from 160,000 to 58,000.

I had my suspicions early on when Fitzpatrick's vote totals began to fall sharply, but now I'm almost certain that something fishy went on. The answers we don't yet have are what, exactly, was changed, why were the ratios reverted to normal for Week 6 and why changes were necessary at all.

I'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions — although this may all come out into the open in the next few days.

UPDATE (Not to make this any weirder than it already is, but I will point out that it was also Fitzpatrick's 32nd birthday yesterday.)

UPDATE Chuq Von Rospach points out a link to the all-star ballot rules and regulations, which specifically single out automated voting systems as a no-no:
No automatic, programmed or robotic votes will be accepted. The National Hockey League (“Sponsor”) in its sole discretion reserves the right to void any votes that are cast in contravention of these rules or that are designed to compromise the integrity of this Sweepstakes. ...

Any use of robotic, automatic, programmed or like entry methods will void all entries affected by such methods and be deemed tampering. Entry material/data that has been tampered with or altered is void.
This is likely what ended up happening — although the skewed voting ratio would indicate only some 'bot' votes were removed (presumably the Fitzpatrick ones) while others were allowed to stand.

UPDATE The NHL's Bill Daly responds via email.

UPDATE In a story from yesterday that I missed, AHL beat writer Kevin Oklobzija from Fitzpatrick's hometown paper, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, has some great quotes from the man himself:
Indeed, part of the Vote For Rory effort was an attack on the NHL's All-Star procedure, which allowed unlimited voting. "It was more about the fans trying to do something, to show their power and change the system," said Fitzpatrick, who turns 32 on Thursday.

Wayne Gretzky, coach of the Phoenix Coyotes and one of the most influential figures in the game, also spoke out against the campaign, saying the NHL needed to intercede. "But it was too late by then," Fitzpatrick said. "They set up the system. The only thing they could have done was said, 'We screwed up and we have to start over.' "
The craziest thing about this whole mess might just be that Fitzpatrick ultimately ends up as the one who makes the most sense.

UPDATE More from Fitzpatrick, who has obviously put a lot of thought into this the past few weeks:
"A month ago, nobody cared about the all-star game. Now it's this big, only-for-the-stars thing and so precious and guys who have made comments probably wouldn't have made comments two months ago. I have to take it as a positive. It got (hockey) some attention and the all-star game some attention.

"To be honest, I kind of represent the majority. The 40 or 50 who are going are the superstars, and pretty special, and that's why they're going. As far as players, they'd embrace me. It's just the sideshow effect I wouldn't want to be part of."



At 7:52 a.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

VERY interesting. Not surprising, but interesting that they didn't cover their tracks on this better.

Joe Pelletier

At 9:10 a.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous snafu said...

Wasn't there an article about a Vancouver fan who found a loophole in the NHL's voting system- and who thus ran an automated program that blocked opposing votes? Now I can't recall all the details because I just wasn't that interested. That article was publicized around the time you mention. Might not the NHL have closed the loophole? I'll try to find the article again if no one else comes forward.

At 9:13 a.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would be happy to learn that the NHL did something to prevent the mocking of its all-star game. Good for them. I feel sorry for Fitzpatrick -- having his name brought before the world as the antithesis of an all-star.

At 9:32 a.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous David Johnson said...

It doesn't surprise me that the NHL fudged the numbers to keep Fitzpatrick out. It does surprise me that they are so stupid to assume that people wouldn't figure it out and thus didn't do more to disguise the fact that they fudged the numbers. But then again, it is the NHL so maybe I am not surprised.

At 9:49 a.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous snafu said...


Who fudged the numbers here? If there are a few fans smart enough to figure out how to set up bots to cast repeated votes, and to tie up the interface so others can't get in, who's fudging here? I laud these guys for being smart enough to do it, but seriously? It subverts the intent of the voting that's supposed to happen one fan at a time. The NHL has the right to fudge back when someone tries to hijack the intent of their "Fan Friendly" actions on THEIR website.

At 10:17 a.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous paul said...

There was in fact a Rory vote-o-matic that exploited a weakness in the online voting system. Those little word-verification captchas you have type before voting (and posting on this blog)? They're supposed to be randomly generated, and near-impossible for a computer to decode. Turns out the ones the NHL used were created in advance and limited to a fixed set, which defeats the purpose of the whole thing. I didn't hear anything about blocking opposing votes though.

This isn't the first time the league has done something stupid on its website.

At 10:23 a.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous David Johnson said...

snafu: I agree with you (somewhat), but the fans never tried to deceive us about their intentions. If the NHL didn't want Fitzpatrick there I would have had far more respect for them had Bettman stood up and said for the betterment of the game that he was going to over rule the fans. But instead we got more lies and deception and yet another reason for me not to believe a single thing that comes out of the NHL offices.

At 10:29 a.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, if you are going to clean out the bot votes, you'd think you'd apply the screen equally (I'm looking at you Scott Hannan).

At 11:41 a.m., January 12, 2007, Blogger Wardo said...

Excellent. If the NHL did indeed discard the Rory votes, good on them.

The intent of the All-Star game is to generate legitimate fan interest in its best players, not allow a collection of gleeful fratboy internet vandals ruin the process. Like I said all along, it wasn't real fans putting Rory into this position, it was a handful of people who don't care about the integrity of the game.

I'm laughing at those people angry that the NHL may have "unfairly" tossed Rory votes aside. Uhm - those votes shouldn't have been there in the first place. Also, it's the NHL's site, something sponsors pay a lot of money to support. They can do anything they want with it. If I'm Coca-Cola, and I'm thinking of dropping my cash into NHL All-Star game advertising, I don't want some idiot with three computers set up in his dorm tainting my business plan.

It's also amusing to me how people are labelling the NHL "stupid" for letting the Rory loophole happen in the first place. Isn't calling the league "stupid" basically acknowledging the illegitimacy of the Rory campaign? It's suggesting that bot exploitation is something that should be that means the Rory campaign is just a sham.

At 12:37 p.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous bryon said...

The NHL All-Star game is a sham. It's a 3 or 4 day corporate love-in for the NHL with a meaningless, emotionless game played at some point towards the end of the festivities.

Rory would have looked no more out of place on the ice there than any of the other players will as they skate around at half speed, play zero defense, not hitting, and basically just goofing around.

At least having Fitzpatrick there would have been something interesting in what will otherwise be a virtually unwatchable hockey game.

At 12:49 p.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous David Johnson said...

And Rory might actually play defense, unlike everyone else.

I say next year fans should vote in George Laraques in the west and Brian McGratton in the east so we can have a fight at the all-star game. Nobody could argue that they aren't all-star fighters and since fighting is a part of the NHL, they deserve to be there.

At 12:56 p.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous paul said...

The Rory vote-o-matic wasn't created by the original Vote For Rory campaign. The campaign itself wasn't a sham ... they actually spoke out against such techniques, and wanted to win legit. It's unfortunate for everyone that someone thought it would be funny to exploit a loophole that shouldn't have existed in the first place. It tends to make any result - win or lose - illegitimate.

At 1:38 p.m., January 12, 2007, Blogger PJ Swenson said...

I was under the impression that there would be no math in this debate.

But really NHL, get a sense of humor. Yes there is a long and storied 100+ year tradition. Yes the Stanley Cup is the most difficult trophy to earn in all of sports. Yes we are supposed to bow down and worship Wayne Gretzky, I forgot what for exactly.

But a lot of fans want to go to games, drink an adult beverage and heckle the villian du jour. After locking out the fans for an entire season, I think you give fans the benefit of the doubt the next 10 seasons, even if they select anyone from Detroit.

The biggest story of the month so far is Patrik Stefan's puck handling skills while flat on his back. Laugh NHL, before arena football and street luging come along with their television ratings and smack the funny out of you.

At 1:44 p.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...The intent of the All-Star game is to generate legitimate fan interest in its best players, not allow a collection of gleeful fratboy internet vandals ruin the process....
I am not, nor have I ever been, "gleeful," much less a "fratboy."
...Like I said all along, it wasn't real fans putting Rory into this position, it was a handful of people who don't care about the integrity of the game....
Forest, meet trees. Real fans recognize that the A.S. game - and by extension the NHL - has absolutely no integrity. That was the point. How can anyone miss this?

At 5:33 p.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous ken said...

If the NHL is dismissing votes cast by robots, why don't they just come out and say, "Here are the vote totals once the 'bots are removed"?

They don't, because it isn't true. They played with the numbers to keep Rory out.

Even if you agree with the end result, then the NHL was right for the wrong reasons.

At 7:28 p.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, I have been tracking Rory's results and comparing them with the rest of the league.

I feel the "bot" excuse is overused and invalid. If you look at the sharks players for example, they have huge drops at week 5. The sharks were widely reported as using bots and voting machines from their stadium, if you also notice Rory's vote gians at this point taper off...but still postive overall. It is because of this I feel that the "bot" generated votes were turned off at week 5, not week 6 when Rory had a huge 100k vote drop.

Also, something very interesting. When you voted online you needed to fill out the ballot for the Eastern AND Western conference. As such, the vote totals should be the same for both, i.e. if 10 people vote, then they must have submitted 3 votes for fowards 2 for defenseman and 1 for a goalie in each conference so there would be a total of 60 votes in the system.

Scale that up and we see every week between the two conferences they are almost the same.

Except week 6 were there are more Eastern Conf. votes then Western. Guess by how much? roughly 100,000

At 10:29 p.m., January 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For everyone who argues that voting bots "subvert the intent of the voting," perhaps you haven't been to a game where people are using pencils to punch handfulls of ballots for their favourite players. Isn't this the same thing? I've seen this go on for years in rinks all over the NHL.

At 8:46 p.m., January 13, 2007, Blogger PJ Swenson said...

"The sharks were widely reported as using bots and voting machines from their stadium."

Actually, they were not using bots or voting machines, they had 6 laptops on a table where fans could vote.

I have seen that done in a few other arenas as well. Nothing out of the ordinary.


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