While Houston did an overwhelming poor job at impressing me, I sincerely hope that the time we have before our time in Atlanta will allow FIRST and the people at the Georgia World Congress Center to make our experience there worthwhile, exciting and special.
I’m talking pie-in-the-sky, ideal world stuff here, but given the chance, this is how I’d do things.
- The entirety of both venues, the Georgia World Conference Center and the Georgia Dome, should be decorated to reflect FIRST’s presence and its unique approach to learning and inspiration. This means that vacant areas of either venue, closed areas, areas in use by other groups, or areas otherwise not appropriate for our use be sufficiently covered from view. Such areas might include unused upper-tier seating, the stadium floor, unused conference center space, closed concessions, universal lobbies, etc.
The point is that Epcot’s event village was made for us, special order style, and it really felt like we were wanted and meant to be there. Every tent had a purpose and every seat would be filled. Houston’s event felt overwhelmingly empty and unfulfilling. The myriad of empty seats in both the Astrodome and Reliant Park was depressing. The unfinished, unsightly concrete walls, pillars and floors further reminded me that we’d been shoe-horned to the venue without given any special consideration of our needs, goals or accomplishments.
On the whole, I’m not thrilled at all with being in a sports stadium. Epcot’s event village showed what we were capable of doing. It showed that FIRST was influential, effective and important enough to warrant the attention of a company such as Disney and that we earned the right to have our own venue. Competing and meeting in these structures that are built for sports stars is something that seems to go against the grain of what we’re trying to accomplish. While one may argue that FIRST has finally moved into the big time with that move, I think it’s just trying to fill the shoes of the people and events it still hopes to emulate. It’s not there yet.
- The walk from the pit to the venue should be as short as possible, should be attractive, and should be arranged and situated in such a way as to attract the public’s attention.
For the sake of those people wheeling around huge carts, we all want to see that walk made a little shorter. While Houston did manage to replicate the tented walkway to the stages, once the participants moved back indoors, the magic was gone. Again, this stems from being in a space that’s far too big for us. I recall seeing unused equipment hidden behind cursory barriers, as well as regular ‘stadium work’ of loading and unloading inventory taking place as we walked by. In addition, volunteers and staff say were positioned all over the place at entrances and openings through which we weren’t allowed to pass. That is bad show and very unprofessional. At Disney, one never sees “backstage.” While FIRST events have two levels of backstage – that of the public and that of the teams – both should be adequately shielded from view.
If FIRST hopes to grow up and fill the big kids’ shoes, they need to attract the attention of the passerby. In Disney, we had the benefit of being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of folks who were on vacation. In metropolitan areas, there are far fewer people with no place to go, so we need make a greater effort at pulling them in.
For that, I’d like to suggest turning the walkway between the venues into a “red carpet” for teams. this would mean keeping it covered by a high-level tent to shield participants from the elements, but still provide a good view of the people. On the street side of the walkway, it would remain roped off, but open. On the opposite side, erect bleachers for people to sit, eat, and wave at and cheer for their favorite teams. Make it a place that people who’re touring downtown Atlanta can stop for a bit and relax and maybe see some neat robots in the process.
That’ll draw them inside to see the pits and the game. But, it has to start somewhere.
- Create a three day long exposition in Centennial “FIRST” Park for the event that is complete with food vendors, educational exhibits (maybe past FIRST robots, other robots, the Delphi car, etc.) an open lawn, and a stage with bleacher seating. Bring in a small variety of carnival rides catering toward different age groups. These might include one spectacular ride such as Conklin Shows’ Doppel Looping (the largest traveling coaster in North America) or Cumberland Valley Shows’ Space Roller (the only traveling Top Scan in North America) or something equivalent. Beyond those rides that really grab someone’s attention, include smaller, more common rides to entertain both FIRST participants (free of charge with a package) and the public (for a nominal fee).
On the stage, book musical acts and comedy troupes for scheduled performances throughout the event. During the opening and closing ceremonies, use this stage and seating, along with video equipment, to broadcast the ceremonies outside.
All of this is geared toward making FIRST a presence in the city of Atlanta, not just another convention.
- Early Check-In - upon arrival at their hotel, teams are given informational packets about the event, including pit maps, schedules, dining and entertainment recommendations, discounts, etc.
- Welcome Dinner - each FIRST package hotel will hold a welcome dinner, attended by someone from FIRST, that will formally begin the event’s festivities and give teams a chance to learn who they’ll be staying with. These dinners should be accessible by teams booking outside a package by paying a small fee.
- Entertainment - in the park, entertainment, rides and food is available all day long.
- Entertainment - see above.
- CNN - CNN does a live on-air spot about FIRST during the qualifying matches. This occurs right before we break for lunch. During lunch, CNN does a round-table discussion with students, teachers, engineers and FIRST personnel. This can be done in-the-round, with CNN visitors allowed to ask questions about FIRST to the participants.
- Party - at the end of the day, the event moves outside to the Park where a headlining performer gives a concert. This is followed by fireworks and access to the World of Coca-Cola, the nearby museum, and Underground Atlanta.
- Entertainment - Again, see above.
- Party - After closing ceremonies, teams are bussed to Six Flags over Georgia in nearby Austell, Ga. There, the park is closed to the public, and FIRST students are given exclusive access to the park for a period of four (4) hours. Busses with leave from the Georgia World Congress Center but will return to the varied hotels in the FIRST package. At Six Flags over Georgia, all rides will remain open to FIRST participants. The park will make an effort maintain short queues by running their rides at the best possible capacity as well decorate the park to represent our presence. Disney event catering goes a long way toward turning Epcot into an exciting, special place. I expect nothing less – especially from people who are bidding
to have me come to their city.
Again, this is pie-in-the-sky. I really enjoy putting on a show, and I really enjoy when people take the time and energy to put on a show for me.
Houston, in my opinion, did nothing of the sort. Walt Disney World, on the other hand, made a great effort at making FIRST feel welcome. I sure hope that Atlanta and its three year commitment are a lot closer to the service and excitement Disney provided than what Houston happened to have on hand.