Adapted from “Driving the Deal Home,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter.
Having trouble convincing someone to follow through on a promise? Borrow a page from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s playbook.
In September 2007, fashion designer Mark Ecko purchased Barry Bonds’ record-setting 756th home run ball in an online auction for $752,467. After buying the ball, Ecko conducted an Internet poll to determine its fate.
According to the New York Times, voters could choose from one of three options: whether Ecko should mark the ball with an asterisk, to signify the steroid allegations surrounding Bonds, and donate it to the Hall; leave it unmarked and donate it to the Hall; or shoot it to the moon. (Upon hearing about the poll, Bonds declared Ecko an “idiot.”) In accordance with the poll results, Ecko marked the ball with an asterisk and promised to donate the ball permanently to the Hall of Fame.
Despite this public promise, talks between the Hall and Ecko concerning the donation of the controversial baseball dragged on in private for months.
On July 2, 2008, the Hall publicly announced that talks with Ecko had “unfortunately reached an impasse,” according to the Associated Press. “The owner’s previous commitment to unconditionally donate the baseball has changed to a loan,” the statement continued. “As a result, the Hall will not be able to accept the baseball.” The Hall has insisted on accepting baseball artifacts as permanent donations rather than as temporary loans whenever possible.
That evening, Ecko’s personal driver delivered the baseball to the Hall in Cooperstown, N.Y., where it was accepted by spokesman Brad Horn. “We are very happy to receive the baseball as a donation and not as a loan,” said Horn.
The lesson? Sometimes intricate negotiations conducted in private can only go so far. If the other side is refusing to follow through, the best way to get that party to follow through on your agreement may be to take the dispute public. Assuming you are right, the fear of bad publicity can induce swift compliance.