Should sponsors be held the same standards as teams?

In response to some of the discussion taking place in a thread about the new control system (, I thought it might be interesting to have a discussion about what behavior we expect from sponsors and, perhaps, mentors outside their participation in FIRST.

Should be there some litmus test that determines whether a company or individual has acted with the “gracious professionalism” we regard so highly or does the oft repeated warning that it should be used only as an internal measuring stick apply here as well?

Perhaps it’s true that sponsorship of a FIRST event by Anheuser-Busch would be inappropriate were it handled in the same way that sponsorship of a football game might be, but what if the money came with no strings attached? What about such a company might make its support unwanted by FIRST or its teams?

Where would you draw the line regarding acceptable corporate or personal behavior before accepting money from a potential sponsor? Is it a deal-breaker if they lie to Congress, but okay if they’ve been party to egregious environmental devastation? No-go if they make bombs, but peachy-keen if they use sweatshop labor to produce their products?

I guess I’m just stirring the pot some, but I’m interested in getting an idea of y’all feel about what might constitute inappropriate behavior by a current or future sponsor and how we should react to that behavior – and how we weigh the pros and cons of what each sponsor and mentor bring to the program.

For a little more that four centuries now, governments (beginning with the Dutch) have been granting some companies the same legal status previously reserved for favored individuals – and the significant extra benefit that the company’s legal liability is limited to the sum of the investments its owners; i.e., its capital. Governments created this new kind of legal entity to encourage large scale risk-taking, initially in ocean voyages. The limitation on liability is sometimes called the “corporate veil”. Under certain extreme circumstances the veil can be “pierced”, making the company’s owners liable (without limit) for damage to others arising from the company’s activities; however, such piercing generally requires proof that the company was established for purpose of defauding those who have dealings with it.

In 1602 the world only contained one of these limited-liability creatures. Now there are millions of them. In almost all cases they have proved worthy of their special liability status, because their risk-taking activities provide access to goods and services that would not exist otherwise. However, special status leads to power and that can have a corrupting influence.

Which view you take of any particular limited-liability company may depend on your relationship with it – customer, supplier, employee, or simply where you live. Residents of St. Louis might feel differently toward Anheuser-Busch than residents of Manchester, or Munich, or Mumbai, when asked whether that company’s activities are a net benefit to the world.

So how to decide which limited-liability companies are worthy to help us change the culture? I won’t claim to have the answer, but I will say that understanding FIRST’s goal and willingness to help move the world in that direction ought to count heavily in any potential sponsor’s favor.

As long as a company, like say Anheuser-Busch, were to sponsor a FIRST event, I don’t personally have an issue with it. As long as they aren’t promoting underaged drinking or irresponsible actions they really are doing nothing wrong. Their advertising would be what you see at every other sporting event or see in everyday life. Just because you saw their advertisement does not mean you are required to use or buy their product or service. That’s a personal choice left up to the individual. Secondly, I would hope that students in the FIRST program, and of that age group would be educated enough to make informed and appropriate decisions in areas such as this. Also, there is no perfect company in existence. Even a company like Microsoft, that sponsors FIRST to a degree, does not have a clean background (read anti-trust lawsuits amongst other things). To find a company like that would be near impossible and eliminate a lot of big name (and big money) sponsors.

I apologize if my post has errors pertaining to clarity but I wrote it in a hurry before I left for dinner.

Well, beer isn’t necassarilly. It’s a beverage, that can be bad if abused. If they simply wanted to sponsor an event, there is no problem with that. If they were handing out samples… that’s an issue.

Also, if making bombs makes sponsors a no-go… a lot of teams would be with out sponsors…

Now that I think about it, any corporation has to have some sort of bad deed associated with it… I guess no coorporation could be a sponsor if they were held to that standard.

(I’m not claiming you are making those points and that I am argueing with you M. Krass, just stirring the pot as well).

I believe that one of the schools I worked with once got an offer from Coors for a sponsorship. After review by the school board, it was decided to accept the money because there were no promotional stipulations attached to the money.

I think the whole idea behind this is what your organization stands for and what value you want to add to it. As Dave said in the other thread, FIRST stands for its values, and adds even more value to the organization when they refuse to accept sponsorships from Alcohol and tobacco companies. Some of you might disagree with this, but it is true - If FIRST were to be sponsored by a company that promotes drinking or tobacco, just being around an ad or just having the name written on the FIRST website will make people talk. Kids will think it is good(even though we tell them drinking underage is bad) and that would lead to more problems. If you don’t believe me, look at your own family and think of what influenced the things you do today - Something from your past. You picked up some values from your parents(unless you hated them). If you say you didn’t and you were born in a dysfunctional family, that’s no excuse. Psh, who isn’t. Think of FIRST as the dad of your family, and then you’ll understand the responsibility FIRST has to the leaders of tomorrow.

On the other end of this, companies(and the govt.) are constantly evaluating FIRST since all of us do our homework and work hard at bringing the attention to FIRST. Contrary to what you might think, professionals evaluate businesses and organizations in a slightly different way then you might imagine. They don’t look at the finances or results first. The reason for this is S-curve economics. They evaluate an organization by looking at the people and companies involved and where it is going. If I was the US Govt. and FIRST was brought to my attention, I’d set a group to evaluate the organization. If they came back and told me “Well it is for students from FLL to FRC level but they are supported by Alcohol, Tobacco and companies like AOL(dial up, with bad business practices)”, I would definitely not support that. Yes, I realize that sometimes even high school sports have alcohol involved, but we are not that, are we? Also, it would be hypocritical of FIRST to tell us to go get students involved and then surround them in an atmosphere that indirectly encourages alcohol or tobacco use.

This is a touchy subject but I think it is one of those factors that will critically impact the future of FIRST. FIRST needs to be marketed correctly in order to get the expected growth. Once they reach a certain point, it is smooth sailing to the point where it will be saturated in all high schools in the US and that’s when it will really matter whether we held up to our values or not. By doing it right now, FIRST is also preventing a lot of future problems. After all, our parents also evaluate the activities we participate in school. I am sure they would not want to be involved if there were any alcohol problems at events. By completely staying away from such a crowd, FIRST is taking away one more excuse for people not to participate and adding one more reason why they should participate. Yes, I realize my thoughts are scattered through the whole post, but you understand.

…Except that there’s already gigantic Budweiser logos located prominently in the Georgia Dome during the Championships, and you’ll see similar things in many regional venues too.

If a company wants to help support FIRST and/or teams, I generally think we should accept it. I don’t think it’s a good idea for FIRST to take on the responsibility of deciding whether a given organization meets some FIRST-defined moral standard. Look at it this way, no matter what a company has done in the past or what you think of their business, as long as they’re supporting FIRST aren’t they trying to do at least some good?

(* It would be a puzzling problem though to be sponsored by a beer company: I’d have no problem with them as a sponsor, but sticking their logo on the side of the robot wouldn’t sit well with me. I would hope in a case like that they would be understanding and be able to work out a compromise ).

I don’t think FIRST has a choice to remove those logos. However, they should control what they can. And I agree, in general they should accept all the sponsorship they can, but definitely not the kinds that support anything against its values.

Many teams are supported by defense contractors who work on vehicles, weapons, bombs, etc. I dont think that the team or FIRST is trying to support war and violence in the world though. Maybe one day we will get to the point where we dont need so much money being pumped into an army but while we still have defense contractors I see no reason why they cannot be a valuable sponsor to FIRST and FIRST teams.

But nearly every company supports or does something that could be considered against FIRST’s values, and other things that companies do might depend entirely on your perspective. To a smoker, a tobacco company as a sponsor may not be inherently wrong. A biotech firm that works with embryonic stem cells would be a fantastic fit for a sponsor for some, but a company profiting from murder to others.

Can you imagine the uproar if FIRST turned down enormous sponsorship $$$ for something you consider frivolous? To use my example above, imagine FIRST turned down an enormous medical company sponsorship because someone in FIRST believed that embryonic stem cell research was wrong. To many in this community, that would be a terrible mistake. To others, it would be the right choice. There are nearly zero “obviously against-values” companies.

Even companies that don’t work in hot-button fields might be considered unacceptable: Microsoft certainly didn’t show gracious professionalism when they broke anti-trust laws in the 90s. Google (and any other search engine with a chinese site) aids the chinese government in suppressing free speech. Sony embedded rootkits in CDs it sold to paying customers. Defense contractors make weapons such as cluster bombs that can indiscriminately kill civilians long after the war is over. Governments engage in wars of opportunity. IBM sold products to Nazis. Power companies own coal plants which spew smog, cancer, and global-warming-causing fumes, or they own nuclear plants that create radioactive waste, or they dam up rivers and destroy habitats.

In short, the line between “against FIRST’s values” and “in line with FIRST’s values” is extremely fuzzy, and mistakes would inevitably be made.

Dare I suggest that context might be a factor here? Sure, I wouldn’t be in favor of sticking a big Coors logo on the side of our robot, but what if their “21 Means 21” campaign was highlighted instead (even with some fine print beneath with the company name)?

So let me see if I got this right…
First isn’t interested in excepting money and support for a company that makes an adult beverage…
But has no problem joining forces with a company that steals ideas from other companies, makes weapons that kill other young people in places with lots of sand. And would welcome goverment involement so they can recruit bright young people to build things to kill more.
And that doesn’t even talk about the money and support First gets from companies that employ third world youth in sweat shops. And they not building robots thats for sure.

Very interesting thread…

what if a beer/tobacco company were to sponsor FIRST in a way not to promote their products, but to discourage underage drinking/smoking?

I would tip my hat to Anheuser-Busch if they were ever to support FIRST. Although they sell beer they do not promote underage drinking, and as long as they stay in the back, than money is money. I think it is unfair for FIRST to limit who can and who can not sponsor a FIRST team especially with such an expensive program. As long as FIRST says that teams/companies can not put certain types of pictures/text on their robots that promote drinking, it shouldn’t be a problem. For a couple of thousand dollars many teams would gladly change their team colors as a way to thank their sponsors, not necessarily by having a huge beer logo on all four of their bumpers.

Do you think that changing your team colors to that of your sponsors’ is a sign of respect that FIRST could recognize and let be?

There are a load of people who love robots, [and I’m pretty sure that beer companies are included in this catagory], so why not let all of the help out in any way they can? If you’re against that than we might as well just stop being sponsored by companies that lay off employees or have buisness contracts with “bad” companies [ex: Booze/Tobacco]? Why stop there, and stop engineers from these companies from helping out their local teams as well and the whole 9 yards! RANT Sooner or later I think we’re going to have to give students/mentors/engineers/volunteers tests to make sure they haven’t done anything thats “ungracious” either. /RANT



Wow, what a thread.

Go back and read what FIRST stands for and what their goals are. The goal is the promotion of science and technology, cultural change, inspiring people to excellence, etc, etc

Why does FIRST even exist? If you listen carefully to Dean Kamen and others it will become quickly apparent that we need all the scientists and engineers we can get to solve real problem that we face.

It is not to create a ‘friends of robots’ advocacy group. Robots do not need advocacy groups.

We want sponsors to be of generally good conduct and responsible corporate citizens. You are not going to find a ‘pure’ sponsor on this planet.

We do want to avoid companies that are not good citizens, but bad corporate citizens tend not to want to sponsor FIRST efforts in any event.

I’m no fan of tobacco, but calling them ‘murderers’ is a little off the map when the behavior is high self inflicted. There are people that make the same claims of the automobile when highway deaths and injuries and environmental concerns are considered. One could say that tobacco has zero value and autos have some value. But some would argue that even the long term costs of the auto and the use of fossil fuels outweigh its benefits.

With the littlest of imagination you could make the claim that many modern activities have risk and bring harm. But these activities also may bring needed benefits.

What is a little more interesting about this thread is comments that reflect a trend going back several decades that says something like “corporations are bad, because they are bad and may have done something that I don’t agree with, and they make people do things they don’t want to do”

Each of us has the power and the responsibility to use the products and services of the business community in a responsible and sustainable fashion.

Corporations are made up of people like me and you. One day you may be working for one of these companies. As an engineer or scientist working for that company you may be responsible for increasing the sustainability of their efforts, increasing responsible use of their products, and reducing the negative impact of their operations or products. You will find that most people in good companies are real people that share the same values and concerns as all of us.

I think A-B sponsorship is great and as a good citizen I’m sure they would be happy to give us a boatload of ‘21 means 21’ stickers. A-B is a concerned as anyone about their customers enjoying their product in a legal, responsible (socially and environmentally).

Many other companies share the same values. These companies very much need new engineers to help them become sustainable. How about biodegradable bottles and food packaging? How about zero impact transportation?

This is where FIRST comes in. Companies need engineers. FIRST delivers.


If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start. If you do, get help and quit.
If you are underage and drinking, then stop. If you are 21 or over then limit yourself to 2 drinks a day maximum.
Exercise, eat properly, work hard, live hard, play hard, laugh hard, inspire people, solve problems.
And leave the world around you a little better place than you found it.

One more quick but important point.

Way Way Way back in time I grew up in ‘tobacco’ country. I’m familiar with the subject way more than most people. I’m not in the business and I know plenty of people that are quite glad to be out of the business.

But there is a big point here that is related to FIRST.

“Back in the Day” from about 1607 to about 30 years ago, tobacco was considered to be a wonderful thing that helped build this country… long story (it is on the walls of the Capital Rotunda). It was highly culturally acceptable. Today it is very negative as it should be.

I watched this cultural change process move things from positive to negative over a long period of time.

Today, FIRST is doing the same type of cultural change with the public perception of engineering, science, and technology. Changing our culture to celebrating the values of FIRST is a very doable thing. It may take 30 years but it is doable and it is happening and we are all part of it.

I think it is important that we don’t run down some ideological rat hole and argue amongst ourselves but that we go forward and work inside of these companies as engineers, scientists, and business people to help transform themselves into the most sustainable responsible company that is possible.

In Israel most hi-tech companies are somehow connected to the army. Israel, for the good and bad, is a country that has to have th strongest army it can. That means that all production, innovation, and budgets are set to millitary goals first of all. This fact makes most, if not all, hi-tech companies connected to the army, hich, well - bombs people and sometimes kills the innocent, there are some thinsg you can not escape from.
The fact that a company develpos an item or an idea for the army, or any other organization does not mean that it supports it(the organiztion). It simply means that it was a good deal and they needed the money.
If FIRST and it’s teams start ‘selecting’ sponsors according to the things they support, and the organizations they work with, all, not most, of the companies will be inappropriate to be a sponsor.
I do not think that having an alcohol comapny as your sponsr is a bad thing. If they are willing to support us in any way there is, it means they intend all good, at least on that issue, if this company supports you than it deserves a sticker on your robot, no matter what it stands for, as it stood for one thing among rest - FIRST (here remember the For Inspiration and Recognition thing). Having a Miller sticker on your robot does’nt mean you support underaged drinking, it means Miller supports you and FIRST, and they should be appreciated for it.
I honestly believe that each and every person who takes any kind of aprt in FIRST, is self aware, or at least has friends who are selfaware enoough to make the correct desicion even if they see a beer commercial in a FIRST event. If we see a picture of Dean or Woodie having a drink in a pub or something tit doesnt mean they want us to drink - same way having an alcohol company sponsor doest mean you drink or want other people drinking.

About companies that have teeangers and children working for them many illegal hours in countries like India, China and other African countries, i would just like to say that as it is wrong, we are still not those who should judge them to sponser or not to sponser FIRST. They should be judged in a courthouse, and if found guilty punished, and maybe only than not be allowed as a FIRST sponser. As long as there are just ‘rumours’ about what thte copmany is doing no desicion should and can be made. After they are found guilty, an action should be taken, though in most cases i still think that a “you-can’t-be-a-sponser” policy is wrong.

Hope i’ve got my idea cleared, Liron.

As far as team sponsorship, I suspect that no high school administration would allow an alcohol or tobacco company to be a sponsor, even with no strings attached.

Regarding FIRST, FIRST is a brand and the brand has to be promoted and protected. Who FIRST selects / allows as a sponsor can have a tremendous impact (positive or negative) on the value of the brand going forward and could have a significant impact on future corporate sponsors.

As an example, look at how companies respond when a pro-athlete gets into trouble. They almost always - immediately - distance themselves from the person. These companies are protecting their brand and the value it has in the marketplace.

re: child labor

At certain times and places in history it was/is desired that children and teenagers work to help support the family. It has been that way for thousands of years. Only in recent history and in the developed world has child and teenage labor been frowned upon. It’s a cultural thing.

I am NOT supporting child labor just explaining it. Even today in the US it is acceptable and legal for a child to work on a family farm or business to a certain degree.

What is obviously unacceptable is abusive and exploitive labor situations for anyone, child, teen, or adult.

re: alcohol

There are things that frustrate every company. With companies like AB it is things like irresponsible use of their product and irresponsible disposal of their containers.

FIRST participants can lead by example in these areas. I have no problem with teams promoting responsibility. The ‘21’ rule. I just don’t equate alcohol with tobacco. When used as directed tobacco isn’t good under ANY circumstance.

re: economics

Economics is the study of the allocation of resources. That can be time/money/labor, etc. The build season is about economics. there isn’t enough time and money and talent and labor to build the perfect robot.

Think about this. Does the government ‘pay’ or give economic incentive for people to pollute?

Irresponsible beer drinkers drive around and throw containers out the window polluting the roadside because they do not want to pay the fine for having an open container.

Irresponsible people dispose of trash illegally by dumping in the nice woods and other places because they have to pay someone to take their trash.

What if things were turned around ? What if the trash dump paid you for everything you took there.

I had to put this out there because I have thought a lot about corporate responsibility as it relates to the alcohol companies and I can to the conclusion the government gives people ‘incentive’ to pollute.

What the government really needs to do is punish bad behavior, like pollution and drunk driving, etc.

That was another nickels worth.

I went to college for free because it was endowed with several hundred million dollars that came largely from bullets and munition sales. The Nobel Prize was started with dynamite money. “Bad” money can be put to “good” uses.

I believe that all companies should be allowed to sponsor FIRST, so long as they are doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. I hope that we do not end up being a rag with which dirty companies wipe their image clean.