Chart showing that FIRST team count was asymptotically approaching about 125 teams and then… …DISTRICTS. Boom! Exponential growth returns.
And, more Districts means more Teams.
FiM has been like a dog on a ham bone about driving the costs down for teams. For them, they have gotten the costs down with subsidies where they can get them and by running dirt cheap districts in as many localities as they can.
At first, I disliked the District Model because my team had made a habit of attending a second regional far from home. It was a huge team builder and it was a lot of fun to leave an impact on teams far away. That was (temporarily) taken away from us with Districts, but it’s really easy to see the benefit that it has on the majority of teams.
FRC is going to be hard to sustain moving forward simply due to the cost required to compete. Districts is the first step in the right direction to making it easier for more teams to sustain themselves.
So right. But don’t forget that the Gov. Synder has been particularly supportive by setting aside $2 million in state grand funds, with legislative approval of course, to encourage the growth in the Great State of Michigan. This is in addition to the hard work of the FRC volunteer staff and members supporting this initiative in our state.
I said “subsidies where they can get them” Gov. Synder’s support is awesome. But it is far from the full story.
FiM runs districts with the minimalist philosophy. They don’t have much more than a field, a projector to show the scores, a PA system, and spartan pit set ups. Typical districts compete with afterglow competitions with respect to cost. That really helps FIRST in Mighigan keep the costs down for their teams.
I see how districts keep the cost down for FiM, but how do they keep them down for teams? Doesn’t each team still have to pay the $5,000 registration fee? If Michigan teams are paying less, it’s because the government is paying for them.
With so many events around the states, Most teams (not all, but most) have 2 events within a reasonable daily drive. This reduces hotel, bus, and food related travel fees for the team.
While not directly apples to apples, say you have 20 students staying 4 to a room Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night for an event at $100/room. This is 5 rooms x 4 nights or $2K just for the student rooms.
Having events within driving distance allows for teams to dramatically reduce that portion of their budget, and still have a 2 event season (minimum).
FiM had originally set up the budget so that states would be free to all qualifiers. FIRST nixed that because they wanted their income.
In addition, if you do the math on a per-match basis, FiM went to two competitions for the single entry fee so you got far more for your money.
In addition, FiM themselves have used the substantial cost savings to pay it forward, giving many first and second year teams lower cost entry fees and grants. The state grants are gravy on top of all of that - though GREATLY appreciated.
I’ve tried to create culture change like this where I work - I can’t imagine the amount of convincing and arguing that went on for FiM to convince FIRST that this was a good idea.
That all makes sense, but I’m not sure how big of an effect it has.
Let’s compare Michigan with other states.
As you can see California and Michigan were neck and neck until 2014, when the State grants kicked in. The growth spurt didn’t begin in 2009 with the introduction of districts.
You can also see that this incredible growth didn’t appear in NJ and PA, where districts were implemented in 2012.
I don’t think the main point should be that Districts cause growth directly. Rather, Districts accommodate growth. Michigan could never have afforded enough Regional events to support the number of teams we have - that was the point back in 2009.
There is anecdotal evidence that at least some growth was caused by having Districts. Much of the growth came in the northern part of the state, where having access to an event was instrumental in getting teams going. I’ve probably told this story before, but at lunch at the first Traverse City District, I talked to a person who had driven about 60 miles to come see it because he had seen coverage on the news. While we were talking, it became apparent that whatever group he was involved with was not old enough and would not have the capability of entering FRC. But that was OK - we told him about FLL and he was very interested. I don’t know if anything came of it or not. But having a District event in a location where it wouldn’t be possible to support a Regional event at least made for the contact.
As someone who has been on the planning committee for the Midland District (formerly known as the Great Lakes Bay District) since we started it two years ago, I can tell you the cost to run our event the first year was approximately $24,000 due to a lot of one-time purchases (floor tarps being probably the biggest cost) we had to make. Going forward we expect our yearly cost to be in the range of $15,000 - $17,000 per event.
As for cost to the teams, in Michigan, teams still pay the $5000 registration fee, but instead of 1 event, they get 2 as part of that fee. If they choose to go to a 3rd event, the cost is $500. It is also worth noting that, for the most part, the district events do not actually get any of the registration money, and have to do their own fundraising to cover the bulk of the costs associated with running an event.
The cost for teams to attend states is either $4000 or $5000 (can’t remember) but any team affiliated with a public school can get that fee paid for by grant money set aside for teams by the State of Michigan. There is also similar grant money available for public school teams that qualify for the world championship.
I don’t speak for Matt, but I think we both learned something from seeing you all started at $24k and are down to 15-17k. What kind of fundraising do/did you take into consideration? Does it pool from sources similar to those teams could use?
Thankfully Midland is home to Dow Chemical, who generously sponsors our District Event, our parent organization FIRST of the Great Lakes Bay Region, and a number of area FRC teams (including the event Host teams) through our parent organization.
We’ve also gotten additional funding from Nexteer Automotive (which also sponsors a number of area teams directly), Dow Corning, Hemlock Semiconductor, and a handful of other sponsors.
Our specific relationship with our sponsors varies; some companies allocate funds that are specifically for the district and separate from funds they allocate for teams. Some sponsors prefer to sponsor just the event itself, for various reasons. And finally some sponsors simply donate money to FIRST of the Great Lakes Bay Region and allow us to allocate it wherever it’s needed (for the event, teams, or otherwise).
Thanks for sharing my graph to all.
The key to the growth of FIRST hinges on 2 things.
Reducing participation costs
Increasing Return on Investment.
When we recreated the District System 8 years ago, these were our objectives and these have never changed.
The growth that that you see is a direct product of accomplishing these two goals. We are not done, we are just getting started.
We work to reduce event and operating costs wherever possible.
We use the money we save to help fund initiation costs for new teams and sustainability grants for existing teams.
We have worked with our state government to secure over $7Million in grants.
Many teams in our state play their entire season without ever paying any registration fees.
We have proven beyond any doubt that reducing costs will dramatically increase growth in FRC.
However, our cost reductions are artificial. We are offsetting the high cost of FIRST’s enrollment fees with government money. In the grand scheme of things this is not sustainable. If administrations change, if the economy shifts, these grants may go away.
So the real question is: If FIRST really wants growth, as Dean repeatedly says they do, and they have real proof of what cost reduction can do to fuel growth, then why do they not ACTUALLY reduce program enrollment costs?
After 25years, and 100X growth in scale, there is still no price break from HQ.
We at FiM operate on a thin operating budget.
Our total operating costs are less than $1000/team/year.
FIRSTs costs are about 10 times this much, despite the fact that a significant portion of the league are now in Districts and these events are not financed by FIRST anymore.
If we ever want Robotics to be a sport in its own right, program enrollment costs must come down. Other leagues understand this. FIRST still apparently does not.