With much discussion of Battlebots, BBIQ, and other robot competitions, I think that we need to discuss the marketing of FIRST. I’ll start out with some history, and then end with some opinions.
1992: - 28 teams, winners went to the White House, some TV exposure on local stations and PBS, NBC Today show covers the event slightly (I think).
1993-95: single digit teams, teams (Champs and Chairman’s winners) still went to White House, ESPN coverage started, local TV and PBS coverage
1996-98: FIRST moves to Disney, teams stopped going to White House, ESPN coverage ends in '98, local TV and PBS coverage
1999: FIRST contracts an LA producer to make a 30 minute documentary video, while they ask many teams to spend more time and money to document their seasons (10-16 teams submitted footage, 2 teams were chosen to be profiled), no more ESPN, no White House, increase in local, state, and PBS coverage… but mostly upon the efforts of individual teams.
2000: Some national TV news shows begin to cover event (20/20, Dateline, etc.), Nickelodean video is taped and edited… but was it shown? Discovery Science Channel airs a couple of shows, increase in local and state support.
2001: A & E “the Competition” shows FIRST as a fun and challenging competition, National TV news magazine shows do stories on FIRST (Today show, 20/20, Dateline, etc), local and state media outlets still covering local teams.
The above history may be a bit inaccurrate, but it’s not too far off.
Here are some observations and opinions (please add yours):
FIRST HAS INCREASED, BUT MARKETING HASN’T. The number of teams, events, and sheer size of FIRST has grown dramatically over the years, but the media coverage has only slightly increased… or even decreased in some areas.
SPEND MONEY ON MARKETING. Other lesser-quality robotic competitions have sprung up and gotten media coverage while FIRST has not. While FIRST didn’t have this competition years before… they do now. In the early years, FIRST devoted little or no cost to marketing to the media. The other competitions have done two things that FIRST has not done to get themselves on TV, and therefore expanding their competitions:
2a. They have spent money on marketing (significant money)
2b. They have made a competition that is easy to understand and media-friendly.
MAKE TEAMS QUALIFY FOR NATIONALS. If the “national media” is going to take FIRST seriously, then FIRST needs to have a legitimate “Championship event”. These media people are not going to be inspired when they see a game that is decided on too much luck, or if they see a “box on wheels”. By FIRST initiating a qualification process to get to the Championships, this is a step in the right direction.
ALLIANCES? I am a fan of “alliances” in FIRST competitions, but the media just doesn’t get it. If FIRST is going to keep alliances, then they gotta spend much effort to make the alliance process easy to understand and explain, from qualifications to the finals. In order to bring the media on board with FIRST, they must make an effort to make alliance-type competitions understandable and excitable.
Get rid of the mindset that we are NEEDY. FIRST cannot depend on the national media to cover the Championships or any Regional just out of the goodness of their hearts… team sponsors must get involved. Many of the BIG sponsors probably would put up advertizing money if FIRST had a TV contract. I would look forward to seeing the Motorola, GM, Baxter, Computer Associates, Delphi, NASA, (etc.) commercials during a broadcasted event. FIRST should ask their major sponsors to give advertizing money to start the TV momentum rolling.
Make the game UNDERSTANDABLE. The game must be understandable and easy to explain. It can still be complex, but students should be able to explain it a reporter without the reporter putting down his/her pen 3 minutes into the explaination.
FIRST should make marketing deals (TV deals, etc.) based on business cases, not on emotional ties and relationships. FIRST is big on loyalty to suppliers and companies who have stuck with them over the years, and they are not as open to new companies who want to “get on board” now that FIRST is big. Also, the correlary to this is that FIRST needs to get over some of the impasses they have had with some companies. Two extremes in this case would be Disney and ESPN. FIRST will barely discuss the option of leaving Disney, while they probably won’t ever discuss the option of getting back on ESPN.
These opinions are debatable, that’s for sure. Along with these, there are more points out there… I’ll stop for now.