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Unread 11-03-2003, 06:36 PM
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How big will FIRST ever get?

All this talk of bigger and more regionals and bigger championships got me thinking. Just how big will FIRST ever get? I believe FIRST will reach a critical size beyond which it will greatly struggle to sustain growth. What that size is I'm not sure, but I'll take a guess at the end.

Some people were saying that the Championship cannot get any bigger because it is to hard to plan and run an event much bigger than what they run now. OK, that may be true. They say the size of their staff cannot handle too much more.

Regardless of what happens with the size or number of regionals or championships, FIRST will need more staff! If we do grow to 2000 teams or more, how will they handle 2000 kit of parts, and 2000 teams on a FIRST program, and 2000 people asking them questions on the FRC site and so on and so on...

They WILL need more staff! How much staff can they hire? This all depends on funding. I am not sure how much FIRST staff is paid, but I know our entrance fees cannot cover them and the rest of the expenses (too many to list here).

The previous two paragraphs are just one factor that will limit growth. There are many more that I will leave up to you to figure out. I do not want to ramble forever.

So, how big can they get? I say FIRST will never sustain more than approximately 2000 teams - ever! What do you think?

Raul

PS. How many of you remember Dean's goal of 2000 teams by the year 2000?
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Unread 11-03-2003, 07:22 PM
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I almost think this should be re named "How can FIRST get bigger"

Lets break down what needs to happen at the Top.
-Design a new game every year.
-Control team registration
-National

Anything else?
I mean really.
"the kit of parts" I hear. How about a list of what things we are allowed to use along with a supplier list. We buy what we need. No kits, prehaps some vouchers to use at various venders. The vouchers could be in exchange for the Registration fee. Reg fees could be reduced if teams were responsible for getting their own kit of parts

"Regionals" are already pretty much run from the local level with FIRST oversite. Yea I will agree that if we need 200 regionals that they have to come down in cost. So less glitz, Maybe more on par with a High School sports final in a division.

"National" But FIRST can run a 250+ Team National already. (I am in the group that says we should qualify for nat's by winning at regionals)

What am I missing?

Whats the point of FIRST? I am fond of saying that my robotics team isn't about robots. I suspect that the same impact on students could be had with 3000+ teams using some of the ideas presented as we will have this year.

As for an ultimate number of FIRST teams?
Tell me how many HS football teams there are in the US. Thats my number for FIRST teams :-) (Of course we are international now...)
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Unread 11-03-2003, 07:33 PM
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I forget when it is supposed to happen by but eventually there will be a FIRST team in every high school.
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Unread 11-03-2003, 08:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by sanddrag
I forget when it is supposed to happen by but eventually there will be a FIRST team in every high school.
Well, that assumes growth is linear for all time which it most definitely is not (if it were, we'd at somepoint have more teams than high school students).

I don't think that the FIRST Foundation itself will be the limiting factor as to how large FIRST can grow. Honestly, there isn't a huge impact on FIRST by supporting one more team or even a hundred more. Yes they will need more staff but so far FIRST has managed to scale greatly without adding too many employees. And with more teams there will be more registration fees to help pay for more employees.

My main thought has been that it will be on the local level that it becomes difficult for teams to develop. There simply aren't as many sponsors out there as we would like. And after awhile we'll run out of all the possible sponsors. Now, I know Dr. Joe likes to bring up the example of Beatty and that there are lots of Beatty Machine like companies out there but, simply, not all of them are interested in sponsoring a robotics team. And FIRST is an expensive competition. At some point it's going to become very difficult for teams to be able to raise money and then team growth will slow.

Matt
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Unread 11-03-2003, 10:08 PM
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Some good points Matt. Yes, our registration fees runs a good part of the FIRST Foundation all year (maybe even all of it).

For example, in some areas there maybe a high concentration of teams all looking for support from this set fixed amount of available dollars and support. Eventually the increasing demand for the same needed share of the pie will surpass the available support. Teams will most likely have to get together to either form larger teams or high schools looking to start teams will be forced to join existing teams. Teams "close" to one another (like in the same city) may end up combining to better use the limited set of reasources. However I find that unlikely unless there is also a high concentration of teams within the same geographical location that warrent the feasibility in doing so.

For example, I know at one point Pratt & Whitney (I'm not sure if they still do) want us on S.P.A.M. to basically become one team with Swamp Thing. Not that we don't like our Sister Team (they're awesome), but do you really want to travel for about one hour after an all nighter down at the shop or perhaps one of those 1 hour fall meeetings? Sure we would do it if we had to. But it would bring up other complexities like student transport from one county to another, different rules and regulations as we're obviously in different school districts, where the shop is, etc.... not counting the previous establishment of two known teams. What number do you choose? etc....though I must admit that would have been interesting to do.
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Unread 11-03-2003, 10:28 PM
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Unfortunatly, the problem might not lie within FIRST, but more likely lies with sponsors. If you think about it, only a certain number of teams can spawn in a certain area, because of limited sponsors. Also, if you have multiple thousands of teams, FIRST will have to like seperate more than likely and become like normal sports where you can compete up to state, but after that there isn't much hope. FIRST has enough troubles running as many regionals a week as they do (and they work their butts off to do what they do now, ask anyone who works the competitions, they'll say how it is, ask JVN or Ken for example, I know that after 5 or 6 weeks, you get worn out) and it's hard to just get enough participation. As you grow too big, you also lose the value in it as well... unfortunatly there must be a cap... and I think we're pretty close to it, because with many more teams, the overall quality will go down and it'll be harder and less one-on-one interaction. To be honest, if we leveled off around where we are now, we're comfortable, but we'll almost definitly continue to grow, which causes problems as I talked about above. There are only so many sponsors willing to pay the fees, and those areas are quickly filling up or have been pretty much filled up, and FIRST can't handle that many more regionals. Plus, FIRST gives you a nice sense of being able to watch the competitions as it is now, and know a good amount of teams, with that many more teams, you wouldn't be able to keep up and watch multiple teams you know in one match, for example, and teams may not be able to network as easily.
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Unread 11-04-2003, 08:49 AM
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Some data (shown below) for the past 12 years shows that our grow rate is starting to taper off. The numbers represent the number of teams that competed, not the number of teams that registered. Some teams sign up but drop out due to lack of funding or whatever.

Check out the % growth and how it has slowed down in the past two years. My prediction is that the growth will continue to slow down. There are 888 teams registered at the time I am writing this. It may even go above 910. But I predict we will have 910 or less teams actually compete in at least one event this year.

Code:
Year     Total         % Gain%
1992      28
1993      25         -10.7%
1994      44          76.0%
1995      59          34.1%
1996      93          57.6%
1997     155          66.7%
1998     199          28.4%
1999     269          35.2%
2000     373          38.7%
2001     517          38.6%
2002     670          29.6%
2003     787          17.5%
2004     910          15.6%
2005    1030          13.2%
Raul
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Unread 11-04-2003, 10:37 AM
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Growth

Raul

Assuming that the basic configuration of FIRST remains relatively unchanged, I think you might be too optimistic. As the bar continues to raise, it will require greater and greater resources to be competitive. I believe that this will cause the weeding out process to increase and I think that equilibrium will be reached below 2000 teams.

I discussed this with some of the FIRST folks at the forum this summer and suggested having a minor league where the costs would be lower and thereby appeal to a larger group of participants (similar to the CDI or the BEST competition). The reply surprised me in that at the present time FIRST is not interested in attacking the masses because they fear that they will choke on too rapid of growth. Their present direction is to keep the major league and thereby controlling the growth rate to a level that they feel they can handle.

FIRST has proven to be resilient and flexible, so it will be interesting to see how this whole situation plays out over the coming years.

Bill
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Unread 11-04-2003, 11:59 AM
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Hidden in my reply above was the funding issue.

How much does a JV basketball team cost a school district every year?

How much does a robotics team need to compete in one regional?

What happens when said basketball (football,track...) makes "State"?

Money is found to send them.

Its a priority issue. Ultimately we (society) decides where we will spend what money we have. If enough of us believe that robotics is at least as important than <pick a sport> the money is there.

I think the long term model *has* to eliminate the idea of begging for money from local businesses. (Although I like the connection that is made when this occurs, business becomes interested in what a school is doing)

So let s keep changing the world. It won't happen this year, or even next but change can/will occur if we continue on our course. The more scholarships and college acceptance letters that have a basis in FIRST will help accelerate the process.

As for the data showing a flattening curve. We have shown growth in an economy that has been pulling back for two years. We showed good growth while the economy was high.
There are more factors involved *as long as we continue with the idea someone besides the school should pay for this*

Rant over. I feel better. I need to go read the hints for the next game again :-)
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Unread 11-04-2003, 11:59 AM
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The Economy Confounds the Data...

Raul, Bill, etc.,

I would be a bit careful about projections of the current trend into the future.

There are a lot of confounding inputs that can mask the trend.

I am amazed, frankly, that the growth continued at all given the tight economy that we have had. With rumors of cutbacks, actual cutbacks, and rumors of even deeper cutbacks, I am surprized that the growth did not reverse.

Frankly, I don't think FIRST has helped itself with the game design in the past several years.

In my opinion, it is quite likely that the growth rate will pick up again with the economy. If FIRST puts out a TV friendly game, this thing could explode.

I have been saying it for a number of years, but I think that this upcoming year is perhaps the most critical year for FIRST in its history.

Joe J.

P.S. My guess is that FIRST (as it is currently configured) will top out at about 4,000 teams. That is basically 1/5 of all the high schools in America.

P.P.S. I think that a league based on the EDU kit could easily reach close to 70-80% of high schools. Time will tell whether or not FIRST will take advantage of this opportunity...
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Unread 11-04-2003, 12:14 PM
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Re: The Economy Confounds the Data...

Quote:
Originally posted by Joe Johnson
I think that this upcoming year is perhaps the most critical year for FIRST in its history.
I agree with this.

I think that when the curtain goes up on January 10th, it will set the tone of how things will go for a loooong time. It just seems like this is going to be FIRST's opportunity to fix any problems they've recognized. (with game design, manual problems, etc)

Kickoff 2004 will send us a message, other than what the game is...

$.02

John
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Unread 11-04-2003, 02:39 PM
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I think FIRST will create FIRST #2

If FIRST continues to grow the rookies will no longer have a chance to win anything!!!

for example you will have 800 veteran teams playing 150 rookies...

FIRST teams will not be able to get sponsers either since many companies all ready support several teams. The sponsers cant keep giving and giving!

I think FIRST needs to create a cheaper and more economic FIRST for schools that do not have the support

Example a EDU bot based FIRST kinda like the LEGO league.
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Unread 11-04-2003, 03:10 PM
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I can see a possibility for a great change coming in FIRST.

Basically, I don't think there is really a cap on the growth of FIRST other than a set number of high schools. However, there is a limit on the growth of FIRST as we know it. I can see it becoming more localized. In order for it to spread to all school districts several things will happen.

First, the cost will have to decrease. For those of you familiar with OCCRA, this is much more cost effective for the participating schools.
Second, the events will have to become more localized and the cost of both attending and hosting the regionals will have to decrease. There would be more teams in all areas and therefore more competitions.
I can see it being like OCCRA just with nation wide participation and a FIRST-like build season. This would have the effect of creating a hierarchy like that of any other school sport (Counties, State, National, International?). There are pros and cons to this situation, but I see it as a possibility.

I just realized that people who are not familiar with OCCRA could get the basic Idea by understanding how FLL teams compete.
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Unread 11-04-2003, 03:14 PM
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Darwin???

Some of these ideas sound like Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection. All these teams fighting for the same amount of resources, some live and some don't!

One thing is for sure, any sport would love to have a "flat" growth curve at 13%. Imagine what would happen to baseball if the number of tickets sold increased by 13%, or the number of major/minor luge teams increased by 13%.

My prediction is that by the time that the high school class of 2004 has children (10-20 years) FIRST will have become mainstream, just like high school baseball and football.
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Unread 11-04-2003, 04:45 PM
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Re: Darwin???

Quote:
Originally posted by Francis-134
Some of these ideas sound like Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection. All these teams fighting for the same amount of resources, some live and some don't!
That is pretty much how it works though if you think about it. As for the OCCRA comment someone else made, I agree with what you're saying. I know of some other leagues that have spawned off as well. One program called "BEST" is a program made by people who used to be in FIRST but wanted to make a cheaper competition. The game is ONLY $500 for your kit and you pay a really low competition entry fee. The robots aren't nearly as big, but they still become complex, and I kind of like that they limit teams to just the kit they send you, so that all teams have to be creative since they all work with the same things, then after the year, you send the kits back and disassemble the bot and get your $500 kit fee back. I kind of like this idea because, to be honest, you can't really use your past years robots very much except for the actual game, maybe as a prototype for the next years, but after the game year, it pretty much becomes useless and can't be used generically. I think new leagues will continue spawn like this, and what I like is that you COULD join multiple leagues. Next year we will of course be in FIRST, but a teacher and myself are going to probably try to start a BEST program as well, for other students interested but can't devote as much time into a program like FIRST. Other more popular programs such as Battlebots IQ seem to show a good learning experience as well. I think that with time an equilibrium will be found, and all of these leagues can connect together and sort of function as one, yet work independently depending on what particular schools/areas can afford or want to build, creating more diversity and the programs are fit more to the individual needs of a group of people.
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