FIRST and Vendors: Something has to change

Renting out a convention center floor big enough to host 600-700 teams is not cheap. You need major sponsors, registration costs alone (unless big $) won’t come close to covering the cost.

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We could go the FLL route of one banner with three tiers for the FIRST Robotics League (FRL).

For what it’s worth, the VEX VRC World Championship costs teams $1,200 to go. But there is also a lot of sponsorship dollars funding the event.

There were 7 MS and 10 HS divisions. There were about 82 teams per HS division (818 teams in HS), there were 72 teams per MS division (508 MS teams.) Each team played 10 qualification events and then the winners from the divisions were combined into a final elimination bracket. Event goes across 3 days. It was broken up into MS/JROTC/VEX U played in one 3 day period, then the HS teams played in the next 3 day period. (VEXIQ followed)

Hope this helps your planning


This is the crux of the whole thing. Assuming a separate championship is desired by the community and FIRST (not sure, see my thoughts earlier in the thread), it’s not a matter of doing math with registration fees.

The Championship in its current form pools a lot of shared resources: accomodations, venue staff, badging/registration, merchandise, food, audio/visual, HQ staff costs, exhibitors, common volunteers, and more. If you take a large event and split it into two medium events, your costs aren’t split in half to each event – it’ll be reduced, but not by that much. It might be financially viable to split the events, if the FTC event is willing to go for a dramatically reduced production and footprint or if the registration fee increases astronomically. Otherwise, there would need to be a significant fundraising push.

It’s the same reason that there are still 65 team regionals when there could be two 30-36 team regionals serving the same population. Cutting the number of attending teams in half doesn’t cut the costs in half (or, doubling the number of teams doesn’t double the cost).


Registration for worlds for FTC teams is 2 thousand dollars.


If VEX/VEX IQ can do it, FTC/FLL can do it.

Precedence from VEX is a strong point towards “there isn’t a real problem here”.

FRC leadership has taken a refreshing approach the last few years in being willing to change up a lot about the FRC program. TBD if this mindset propagates to the rest of the progression.



I’ve always thought the best place for cross-program integration for the sake of inspiration and recognition would be district championships. There are a lot more of them than world championships, and they’re much more accessible to a large quantity of teams. Celebrate and recognize all the programs in a region at the highest level of play in the region, and leave the championship for focusing on each individual programs’ efforts to showcase they the best there is in themselves. You could still have all championships in a single venue / date, but don’t need to worry about integrating them all.


Get me a California DCMP, and I’m sold.

I don’t know if you’re aware, Andrew, but we don’t have districts yet in California. Shocking, I know.


I was told not to use the D-word in California anymore :frowning:


Chesapeake did this last year – they held the FTC championship in the same space as their district championship. Helps of course they are run by the same organization (mostly because the previous FTC affiliate partners for Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia all collapsed :grimacing:) So I’m curious to hear if any CHS people on CD actually visited the FTC side.

tangent on West Virginia I never liked how West Virginia ran as a region, in its five years of existence from 2015-2020. My impression was that it was largely propped up by 2614 likely for Chairman's (hey, it worked), and it was a super early state championship in the first weekend of December that for WV teams was their first and pretty much last competition -- to my knowledge, they never even ran scrimmages either. Additionally, most of the team list was neighboring out of state invaders hungry for scarce advancement slots --- In the five years it existed, a West Virginia team advanced from that championship December 2019, so they never even went to Worlds the following April. In other words, teams would build a robot for 3 months, show up to a single competition, get crushed by the Giant Diencephalic BrainSTEM Robotics Team, and go home.

WV teams would often compete in neighboring Virginia and Maryland anyway just to have an actual season, and one or two would even snag an advancement out of it. While it sucks they no longer have a championship in their state, I’m glad the teams have access to the wider competition pool of Chesapeake that many would have wanted to go to anyway.

Apparently, Arkansas used to be very similar to West Virginia (similar championship date, similar type of leadership etc) but their leadership changed circa 2018 so while the region is still too small for anything other than a single official event they’ve been very committed to holding scrimmages from December through February.


Only when forced to walk through FTC to get to inspection or the practice field:

Cross program interaction seemed very limited. I personally disliked the added noise from announcing for the FTC fields and the lengthened awards ceremony from mixing FRC and FTC awards.


Side topic, but I probably wouldn’t be doing FRC if I didn’t see the big robots at Champs as an FLL student.

That being said… I do think with the far more segregated sections of fist divisions at Champs maybe makes this much worse

Wanted to pass on some history/onservations as a former mentor of a very large FTC program that directly supported 30+ FTC teams in a community build program. The teams did the work and the mentors jobs was to keep providing resources and could not touch the robot. Won a FTC world championship and the senior team almost repeated the following year. Search on video replay petition at Moved on from FTC because we continued to grow the atrisk program and the reality is atrisk teams would never advance on specialty awards.

Started our own in house program called Robot Drone League in the Fall and wrapped in December so teams could also do FRC. Robot Drone League was designed to have 4 teams show up for a one hour session and they would each get two 10 minute matches on a bigger field with drones integrated into the game. In a FTC Saturday you spend 8 hours to get in 5 two minute matches. Robot Drone League was a blast and teams loved the 10 minute matches and parent really liked the one hour time commitment on Saturday or after school…

The atrisk teams typically only have support after school and as an example boys and girls clubs are not open on Saturdays. We would host Robot Drone League matches after school with various boys and girls club teams competing.

Before COVID hit we had 11 FRC teams 6 of them from our atrisk programs where they started doing Robot Drone League in middle school using GoBIlda and learned the core build systems. All 11 of our FRC teams used GoBilda and we made conversion parts to mount FRC motors etc to be on hole pattern. We had a rookie team(not atrisk) advance to worlds and seem to recall they were picked by the sixth team for championship. GoBilda can be very competitive if you know what you are doing.

Basically giving context related to a very large robotics program that tried to standardize on a build platform that was reusable and could do FTC and FRC. I got to know the various vendors very well because we made very large purchases to support the teams in the program(TechGarage)

When COVID hit and FIRST decided to not do refunds and then following year charged an excessive amount for virtual we had enough and couldn’t put our heart and soul into FIRST. As COVID dragged on it became very difficult to deal with the dynamics and we decided to not restart the program. It is with that background I can share the following observations that I haven’t thought about in a couple years and typing on my phone…

  1. Review the FIRST 1099( I haven’t in the last couple years) but as a non-profit they are required to disclose the financials. They make significant profit each year that they are saving for something.

  2. The owner of GoBuilda also developed Actobotics and Tetrixs sold by Pitsco. FTC back in the day was all about Tetrix. Gobilda owner wanted to keep improving/expanding the tetrixs platform but no interest from Pitsco or FIRST. He has a very large number of patents in the space. Gobilda/Actobotics are at the mercy of FTC game committee which brings us to REV. Out of nowhere REV enters the space with two founders and get the contract for the control system. Originally FTC used a control system from modern robotics that on paper was good but used USB connectors to connect various control modules that connected via android phones. It was a disaster in that the USB cables/vibration/disconnecting in combination with android OS would make for very long days trying to get robots to run at a match. At the vendor meeting a month before FTC kickoff Modern Robotics found out they were being replaced by REV after they had already put in the order of electronics for a new season. Modern Robotics core business was FTC.

Back to REV. They came up with a version 2 control system that worked well as it didn’t rely on USB cables to connect motor and servo controllers. They now have an every growing collection of robot build system with complicated hole patterns /extrusions that isn’t something you throw together on a tight budget. Some hints can be found in the patents for the REV parts/pieces that the patent holders all work for DEKA research which is Dean Kamens company. I have never seen this disclosed or the relationship between REV and DEKA related to revenue sharing explained. Maybe DEKA is doing the engineering work for free but someone is financing manufacturing.

Interesting dynamic in that a non-profit comes up with rules that guide the FIRST program and external vendors profit or don’t profit from these rules. One of those companies(REV) appears to have a business relationship based on patents with DEKA.

REV recently moved into the FRC space with a great brushless motor that someone had to approve at FIRST. Not a trivial undertaking related to product development. Then REV followed up by introducing the new FRC power distribution hub which looks a great deal like the old power distribution hub developed and sold by CTR electronics which I think came out of a FRC Michigan team. I met the designer of the CTR electronics at worlds trying to track down a problem and he couldn’t have been more interested and helpful. Going to assume CTR wanted to stay in the FRC business and not having the power distribution hub and other modules impacted the bottom line.

Also met the CEO of CTR electronics and as we talked about the business of competitive robotics learned that his sister was married to the owner of VEX. The point it is a small community.

Back in the day FIRST partnered with VEX to do a earlier version of FTC and the relationship didn’t last long. I suspect FIRST saw the value in a build platform that leveled the playing field and maximized revenue opportunities in the space. I suspect REV is that vision with a slow transition to parts that can be used in FRC and FTC only available from REV.

In the end it is all about putting on a great program and paying the bills. Coming back around to FIRST as a non-profit that when I last checked a couple years ago had $40+ million in the bank and typically clearing $4+ million a year that is something non-profits aren’t allowed to do except!!! A non-profit can have can have cash reserves but typically expected to spend what they bring in relation to the mission of the non-profit. When I was researching this via Google searches 5+ years ago came across a discussion that a non-profit can raise a significant amount of money through donations and services that doesn’t have to be spent if the organization is largely run by or supported by volunteers. The IRS isn’t going to get into the details if the non-profit has a large group of individuals volunteering to support the mission.

Based on my 20+ year history with FIRST as a mentor the decisions that are made make more sense in the context of being an organization of volunteer robot enthusiasts that need students to be involved to make it worth all the time and energy.

FIRST has had a significant impact on so many and they should be in a position to maximize revenue by selling the robot kits. They just shouldn’t be doing it as a non-profit without rules that keep the playing field for third party vendors equal.

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Rev has offerings for FIRST Global (which is a separate organization from FIRST), and FIRST Global has a strong relationship with DEKA, so that may be the origins of some of the patent connections?

The CTR electronics PDP looks far more similar to the earlier blue PDB (2009) than the REV PDH looks like the PDP, so I wouldn’t read into this much. My understanding is the original blue PDB was designed by DEKA for FIRST and then manufacturing was outsourced. I don’t know the full history of the CTR PDP development–e.g. whether the design was really based on the PDB design, just inspired by it, or driven by FIRST’s requirements to have something very similar.

FIRST had a relationship with IFI to provide control systems through 2008; FRC switched to an NI-provided control system in 2009; the VEX relationship for FTC (FVC in 2007-2008) was also terminated in 2008, being replaced by the Pitsco kit with a Lego NXT brain. My speculation is that the main reason for the shift was that NI was a much larger company for FIRST to partner with, and NI made a major educational push and major partnership/commitment with FIRST for FRC, and the FTC change away from VEX was fallout from this. In my view the Pitsco/NXT kit was far inferior to the VEX kit, so it wouldn’t surprise me if FIRST was hearing team feedback that a better solution was needed and they might have looked at what FIRST Global was doing?

In FIRST’s FY2022 financials, FIRST had a loss in net assets of 3.4M in 2021 and 621K in 2022, as well as lower cash (34M in 2021, 31M in 2022) and short-term investments (16.5M in 2021, 15M in 2022). Overall financial assets available to meet general expenditures within one year is $24M. Given that FIRST had total annual expenses of nearly $75M in 2022, having $24M (or $31M if we look at total cash) available is not unreasonable… if my team had annual expenses of $7500, a carryover of $2400 seems perfectly reasonable to help ensure the organization survives through uncertain donor environments etc. Given the disruption of the last several years, we should be glad that FIRST had the cash reserves it did at the start of 2020 to weather the storm (and even then they had to make massive cutbacks).


This and a ton of other unfounded and innaccurate claims in your post. Most of the assumptions about REV are totally off base. You write as though you have inside information into the inner-workings between FIRST vendors and FIRST, but I suspect you’re just wildly speculating based on small kernals of truth that you’ve heard through long games of telephone.


You guys are still upset about a championship that happened 7 years ago? What’s next, are the Einstein 2012 teams going to post about their own petitions? Three generations of FTC students at this point have had the opportunity to forget who ERX is.

Plenty of bad Incidents have happened at Championships etc. since both in FRC and FTC but you don’t hear them bring it up at every single opportunity nearly a decade later with petitions.

I get video replay and referee decisions could use a rework, but this is something that you work through by working with volunteers to build something that works for everyone — not by screaming into a void on repeat for years to come and talking about how FIRST failed you forever. You want video replay? Hold an offseason with it. Simulate how you would handle upset parents screaming at your refs. Figure out the logistics of it and create a proposal, and maybe see if your affiliate partner is willing to try it out, FIRST be damned, etc etc etc.


Not sure how this plays into this, but the original PDB’s circuit board has an interesting early name for the device:


With only one Championship, why not bring back two Big Super Regionals? You could double or triple the number of teams moving beyond their state and create a nice funnel of teams going to the Championship!

Or is this hard because FIRST is trying to jettison FTC?

You mean like:

They launched it earlier this year.


Thought i would post this update here as its fairly significant. Seems very positive for now

Edit: under further scrutiny, while this is a step in the right direction, the wording is very vague.