Split Topic: How does FIRST financially survive a modified/cancelled 2021 season

Can or how will FIRST survive if we don’t have a 2021 season or beyond for a couple of years. Most teams are not going to pay a registration fee for a non event. They stand to be losing 25 to 30 million a year in registration fees. Plus sponsorship will drop if no events are happening.
You can find FIRSTs financial statements online.


first-audited-fy18-fs.pdf (516.8 KB)

I took a quick look at the finical statement, and as expected it looks like even if FIRST loses a majority of it’s funding, it has a relativity small accounts payable (which should go down massively with the cancellation of any season), so I wouldn’t be extraordinary worried about it.

It would take a bit more effort, experience, and some more in-depth document to fully understand what’s gonna happen if/when more events get cancelled but I wouldn’t be terribly concerned about the stability of FIRST’s bank account as things stand right now.

That being said, individual districts, teams, and suppliers are likely FAR more at risk if we miss yet another season. I’d expect we are already looking at ~10% team loss already, and who knows what suppliers are facing.

Daddy Deanbucks would probably be the last line of defense.


This is really difficult, and there could definitely be long term impacts. This will effect everyone, from teams, to FIRST as an organization, and suppliers, whose impact may be less obvious at first. A lot of this is outside of our hands, as school and regional guidelines may force teams not to compete and events to halt in their tracks. Even if a season DOES happen, we likely will not know that for certain when it’s time to register for events, and that uncertainty may cause teams to miss out on playing.

I do know that FLL is considering a virtual season in many areas, but the size requirements vastly increase as we start looking at FRC. There’s also talk of remote events in FTC, where a few teams will all compete in different locations around the area. The labor intensive field setup and size make that harder again to pull off for FRC, but maybe having a field setup in an area and having 4 or so teams there at a time for 2v2s? There are a lot of smart people in this community, and there are ways that we can try and do things differently while enjoying ourselves and keeping everyone safe. This year is called game changers, so let’s change the game and find ways to continue doing what we love whether we can meet in person to compete or not.

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My understanding is that FRC was not always 3 vs 3. Perhaps some other competition format may make it easier for more teams to continue to participate.

I’ll give you the short version:

Back in the early 1990s, I’m not entirely sure what the consistent format was. But by the late 1990s, FIRST had developed a 1v1v1 system that worked, somewhat. But in 1998, FIRST noticed that highly-ranked teams tended to not win. They watched the video and discovered that those matches tended to play 2v1… so for 1999, collusion, which could not be prevented, would be REQUIRED. Enter the 2v2 era (1999-2004). 3v3 came along as a result of program growth.

I think the optimum “virtual event” would be a field at Point X, serving Radius Y. Bring in as many teams at a time as Point X can safely handle, they play some random number of matches, and then everybody goes home. The next day/weekend, another bunch of teams comes into Point X, same thing. At the end of Time Z, the Point X teams are rated against each other using Method E, Method O, and Method C, as well as Method R. The top A come together for a playoff series–selections are virtual. Radius Y then sends their top B teams to Virtual CMP…

OK, might be too complicated.


I really don’t think a virtual FRC season is practical. They will have to have real competitions, even if they have to restrict some things. Like how many people per team are allowed to the event, or having people wear masks.


I was having a discussion on the 4th with similar parameters…what will be the impact on Major League Baseball of the current unpleasantness. And of course, what would happen IF.

For MLB teams there may well be a talent drop in a few years, even under best case scenarios. The minor leagues are effectively out of business shutting down the talent supply line.

FRC has a few similarities but the impact will be felt sooner. Even best case there will be very few rookie teams this year. And plausible case there will be many teams who have limited ability to meet. A 10% contraction has been mentioned and seems about right. FIRST HQ can handle that I figure. Coupled with what has to be decreased overseas teams it will be a belt tightening for sure, but might solve some problems of growth issues.

A second cancelled season would be much worse. If you figure that juniors and seniors provide much of the accumulated wisdom of a team, well, adios. The basic level of sophistication of robots would drop even without the issue of suppliers survival. I think two years of essentially no traditional FIRST would reduce teams by a minimum of 25%. And would wipe out both low resource teams and another crop of rookies.

That’s beyond the point of creative destruction with its opportunities to use change to improve. And 25% would be a minimum estimate, lots depends on the overall economy. So far we’ve been ridiculously lucky on that front.

Fingers crossed.

T. Wolter

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a series of payday loans would do the trick

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Guess I should increase purchase of stock in loan companies;)

So I went back and pulled FIRST’s 2019 Form 990 as filed with the IRS (and self-provided for GuideStar, that four-star rating thing they brag about like once a year.) For their 2019 Form 990 (for fiscal year 2018), FRC had $49,857,823 in expenses for FIRST, including grants of $25,776,098, with $14,783,500 in revenue.

If the summary of program revenue and expenses is correct, they lose money on FRC. I had originally thought that this may just be including grants elsewhere, but the grant totals across all four programs seems to be ~$33m (manually summed), with ~$26m unaccounted for as grants (total listed on page 15 of 2018FY/2019 Guidestar Form 990 for FIRST) , meaning it’s “Gifts, […] contributions, and membership fees received. (Do not include any “unusual grants.”)” in this. The potential also exists their form 990 is more cooked than burnt ends at Pappy’s, but I think Travis may have gotten it right.

Quite frankly how they made money before is confusing, much less in the COVID era.

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Like many non-profits their revenue ($27M) does not cover their expenses ($82M), so the difference is made up with donations ($59M). So their fund balance increased (by $5M) in 2019 (to $53M). Of their expenses, $18M is staff and $34M is grants. Hard to say how outgoing grants might decrease in an “idle” year or two, but it looks like they could financially weather that, as long as donations returned to comparable levels when they come out of hibernation.

Unless you can’t solidly identify an upcoming payday, which is the original problem.

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There is no such thing as absolute value in this world. You can only estimate what a thing is worth to you.

Charles Dudley Warner

Speaks volumes to our current situation.

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I’m more concerned with the district affiliates surviving this year than FIRST HQ… especially the two organizations that had negative total assets at their last tax filing.


Would be very interesting for everyone. I think our team would continue to work on other things, like PPE equipment, do some projects, and definitely some teaching. I hope that nothing bad happens to FIRST, but I think that they’ll always find a way. It’s certainly a good cause

Most of the districts run extremely lean I know in Georgia we have two people on the GA first payroll and our equipment is stored in a Cisco wearhouse basically every other dollar is spent raising more money, on events, and grants to teams in need. So districts could probably survive hybernating easier then first national just due to the lower level of fixed costs so long as we get a go no go before everything is booked in.