The Problem With Events

The Problem With Events

FRC events large and small, district and regional alike have a common set of problems.Too expensive, difficult to start, and events take money away from local teams.Please stand by as I explain my point of view gathered from a lot of old CD threads.

The Prototype

In 2008, Kettering University hosted an event called a “Pilot Rookie Competition” March 7th-8th (Week 1), under the theory of a low cost regional for rookies to get a second play.The catch was that it was only available to rookies, had a $500 registration fee, and it didn’t qualify you for Championship in Atlanta (heh).

It was met with mixed anticipation as the thread quickly got sidetracked talking about both event costs and FIRST’s economy of scale (some things never change.)It became the Kettering Kickoff event as far as I can tell,and Kettering has continued to host a District event since then. However, the wider reaching idea of a cheap, small event in a high school became…

The District System

The District System today is a different system than what was created in it’s inception, and even one listed in the “FAQs Regarding the FRC District Competition System”]( For those of you unfamiliar with Districts, it’s pretty simple overall.Teams do different things across two district events to earn district points, and qualify for a district championship based on this.

However, in Jim Zondag’s paper, there were several outlined tasks that differ from reality today.For example:

  • District teams can now compete in other districts, but still no regional teams in district.(As opposed to Michigan being in isolation.This is a result of the district system’s growth though. Q5)
  • DCMP was intended to be free in FIRST in Michigan.(It costs us $4k today, and as outlined in the paper.Q13)
  • There are now district points associated with Chairmans and EI. (There were none in the proposed District system.Q18)

At the end of the paper though, Zondag outlines the three major changes they’d still like to make.

  1. Reduce Registration Costs
  2. Address bag and tag.
  3. Border-less society (letting any team compete anywhere they want, like events used to be pre-2009)

As a note, the paper was last updated on Chief Delphi in 2013, and we’ve still yet to see costs change, a change to bag & tag, or a way for regional teams to “opt in” to districts.To combat costs, and as a part of massive support from State government, FIRST in Michigan has massive rookie and sustaining team grants. that are entirely supplemental to the normal FRC grants.Teams can be started at a * profit*, and receive help at year 1 or year 20.

** Flex Events **
In 2012, FIRST was beginning to evaluate the move of FRC as a whole to a more sustainable system. FIRST had town halls in prospective districts and discussed their grand vision, being the Super-Regional System the FIRST Tech Challenge uses today. One curiosity to arise was
this image .If one is observant, they’ll notice the small red “FRC Flex Event” label in the top right corner.Now, this was never implemented or else we’d have heard of this all over CD, right?

Flex Events, based on the anecdotes of those who attended a town hall, were intended to be low cost regionals held in high school gyms, not unlike district events.They’d have been lower cost (likely between the current cost of the two types of event) and still advance to their prospective Super-Regionals.We never got Flex Events, but the principle lives on in dream for a lot of people who still can’t get districts (as shown in California, already running multiple small regionals in high school gyms, but at the full price tag of a regional.)

2017 Turkish Robotics Off-Season

About a week ago, I was sitting at school, watching the livestream for the Turkish Robotics Off-Season (TROS), enjoying the spirit and activity of an FRC event in the winter, and getting a taste of their regional to come.They ran a full field, normal AV, normal awards,actual banners, etc.Their offseason was the closest thing to a regional I’ve ever seen in the offseason, and I thought it must’ve cost a fortune to attend.I checked their website and was shocked to find their registration prices.

500 TL - Fee for Veteran and joint Rookie-Veteran team registration - No kit of parts.
2500 TL - Fee for Rookie team registration - kit of parts will be provided

~$130 and ~$650 respectively for one of the most amazing offseasons I’ve ever seen from afar (including IRI @ $750 and Chezy Champs at $300.)

My question continues to remain how they funded such a magnificent regional for pennies on the dollar of regular FIRST regionals.For less than the cost of the kit drivetrain, they offer a full event.Now, I very much believe that there’s some subsidy, but it’s incredible nonetheless.

The Question

Over the years, offseason events, districts, and other one-offs have continued to come up with cheaper, better events that give teams more chances to do well and spread the highest level of FIRST Competition, being FRC.Whether it’s subsidy from State Gov’t like FIRST in Michigan, a foundation like TROS, or just plain ol’ good offseasons run by people who care, they make it work.

However, regionals and districts have stayed the same price overall, causing a lot of regional planning committees to have to fund the event from other sources (as they don’t get a lot of money from FIRST to run expensive regionals.)If there are X dollars avalible to give to a community and the regional occupies Y% of it, that’s less money avalible to give to teams to actually make it feasible to compete.Some major sponsors have actually *stopped funding regionals *to instead directly fund teams, as they felt their money wasn’t being used effectively.

The question is why hasn’t the cost savings spread to teams? Events continue to cost absurd amounts of money with seemingly little impact on quality of event, little going to the actual people running them, and at massive difficulty.Full disclosure, I’m not on a RPC, or District Board, or a RD, or a KeyVol or a Senior Mentor, or anyone at HQ.I have no idea what HQ’s side of this issue is, but I’d actually be very curious as to it.

I’m curious as to what everyone collectively thinks, as this isn’t a small problem, or even a big one.It impacts every single team in FRC, for better or worse.But for those of you waiting in the wings for district, including:

New York
West Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia (WOW)

Good luck, and congratulations to FIRST in Texas for the move to Districts for 2019.

Blog Version

Relevant to this discussion is the fact that the Los Angeles Regional has moved from the Long Beach Arena to the Pomona Fair Grounds at what I’m assuming is a tremendous cost savings.

Tim, as a mentor on a team in New York that’s still shelling out nearly five figures to register for two events, I wish I knew. Those two regionals are even in college gyms. We’re basically paying twice as much as district teams for the same thing.

In a similar move last year, NYC moved from the Javits Center to the Armory Track and Field AND put on the Hudson Valley Regional at a community college for significantly less than the cost of the old NYC regional.

I’m really happy more regionals are making the switch to more affordable venues.

Well, I do know that some of the cost of that $5000 registration fee (or whatever the equivalents are for Districts) go towards other events, especially towards Championships. And now that we have two of those, I’m sure that it is probably unlikely for these fees to go down anytime soon.

Also, I wonder what FIRST’s ideal event attendance situation would be. More teams to pay more fees or more events to give the same number of teams more opportunities to pay. Or maybe more events/teams? Less events/less teams?

FIRST is an interesting organization that fits an interesting market. I’m sure the costs for these things aren’t necessarily normal when compared to other sports or purchasing other products.

One of the most deceiving things about regional registration costs is that $0 goes to the funding of the regional event.* It all goes to FIRST for various things including funding the championship. Regional committees are responsible for raising money from sponsors to fund the regional.

  • I’m not entirely sure how regionals that aren’t able to break even are funded. Presumably by FIRST and are on the chopping block if they can’t fully fund themselves.

Nah dude, we get the regional experience!*

*That is, the experience where if you don’t win or aren’t the runner-up captain, you must not be good enough for champs :slight_smile:

Now, obviously regionals present multiple ways to qualify for champs. Wildcards, for the most part, get passed down**, and there’s still chairman’s. But can you imagine you’re the first pick on the #2 seed at both your regionals, losing in finals, and you don’t qualify for champs? I’m not saying that exact situation happened to anyone, but it’s entirely possible, and I’d be willing to bet it’s happened, among other bogus scenarios. You could write a book about all the teams whose seasons have ended too early. (I have absolute, 100% confidence that 3624 could have been, at the very minimum, a CMP division semifinalist or higher. That robot was an incredible gear bot, and the regional qualification system failed. There’s also 1796, a crazy good Einstein gear bot that only got to champs off waitlist.)

**Can we please start passing wildcards down to semifinalists, and if necessary, have a third place match? Please?

Speaking as someone in Michigan, I would really like to know where all of our registration money is going. Considering that all of the district events in Michigan are held at high-schools with resident FRC teams and staffed by wonderful volunteers, I’d assume that venues cost are very low. Certainly not $2,500 – especially considering that an extra in-district event is only any addition $500. Assuming that actual cost of running the event is less than $500, it makes one wonder where the other $2,000+ is going. The MSC also costs $4,000 despite having 160 teams in attendance and being located at a state university. There is no way that is cost $640,000 to put on the MSC.

If someone can point me to the accounting sheets that explain why this all costs so darn much, I would be very appreciative.

Oh, totally, man!

As a four-year district student, I firmly believe that there’s no difference between Tech Valley and a MAR event except that TVR has a black curtain.

It wouldn’t help in every situation, but I’ve been saying for years that wildcards should be awarded based on district points at that event. But no, our system that gives wildcards to a finalist second pick (usually one of the weakest bots to make playoffs) and finalist backup (a robot that couldn’t even get picked!) over a semifinalist captain or first pick.

Precluding these competitive semifinalists from Champs DEFINITELY enhances the competitive experience for:

  • Everyone at Champs by lowering the level of competition
  • Those semifinalists by leaving them home while considerably more mediocre teams play at Champs.

I’m a big believer in the power of the winning second pick to inspire, but I think we shouldn’t be going out of our way to send more weak teams to champs when there is a clear way to determine more competitive ones.

Sorry, I’ve been overdue for a rant on the matter for a while now.

I can’t point you to the sheets. But I CAN point you to a lot of OTHER things that may help.

–FIRST has staff. Staff needs to be paid. And I don’t mean minimum wage–competitive wage, or they’ll leave to pursue other opportunities. If you figure that there’s 15 people just on FRC, and at least that many on FTC, FLL, and JFLL each, you’re talking about 60 salaries to pay right there. At a reasonable rate, that’s between 9 and 15 FRC registrations, per person, at least on the engineering side. Could be more or less depending on a lot of factors.

Also factor in the remote staffers’ stipends, those that get some. That would be RDs and Senior Mentors, some of them at any rate.

–The fields need maintenance, repairs, and total rebuilds between seasons. They’re doing that right about now in fact. Additionally, every field needs transport and storage, though not all of it is paid by FIRST HQ*. Game specific parts have to be shipped overseas. There’s something like 20 fields in the system at this time. You can do the math on how much building the real elements would have cost last year…

Also factor in R&D for the field elements.

–Did I mention logistics? People need to travel around a bit for events. HQ pays for some of that–some Key Volunteers, FRC Staff, you get the idea. That’s on top of the field logistics costs.

–Overhead. Lights on, HVAC, rent (though IIRC Dean owns the building), water, and all the other stuff that goes with building maintenance and operation. You could lump FIRST Place in with that–it’s a summer-ish program for the local kids and takes much of the first floor (not basement).

–Production costs–see also the Kickoff videos, and Show Ready for many events.

–Grants. FRC does offer certain grants themselves.

–KOP assembly/transport costs. Including the control system for rookie teams (why they pay more).

–FTC/FLL work, similar to FRC but on a somewhat smaller scale in terms of materials/labor to assemble per unit but there are more units.

–Championship x2. Transporting ~9 fields, and all the “show” stuff, plus FTC and FLL etc, to a venue that is rented “set up”, setting up, feeding everybody, tearing down… I’ll let y’all work out the costs on that one!

While it might be nice to see the financial sheets sometime, I’m not sure it’s actually a good thing. Someone somewhere is going to go “Oh, you pay that much? My buddy Joe has a shop that can do it for half that!” and completely forget that shipping 20 large-ish items across the country has its own cost. Or someone will say “Why are we spending that much on this, we don’t need it for the competition to happen!” and then another 30 people will run to HQ with pitchforks and torches when that item is removed because they like it.

*Districts handle a lot of their own gear.

This is obviously not crazy detailed but for people interested here is the 2016 FIRST Annual Report.

Michigan buys and owns their own fields. Likewise the trucks that get them to events. Add in the many things you don’t see at events like volunteer meals, etc.

$500 doesn’t begin to describe the actual costs for an event.

The Michigan State Championship are mandated (required) to go directly to FIRST.

This has all been discussed at length here before.

A district costs between 10-15k to run in MI. The biggest chunk of that (if you can’t get a donation / deal with a local vendor) is ~5k in feeding volunteers for the weekend. A lot of venues will have custodial fees and need to rent a generator for the weekend to be able to deal with power. None of your registration fee goes to these costs. This is all done via fundraising by the event planners.

Your $5k for registration goes to HQ. for the things Eric listed above and likely for a rainy day fund for FIRST in case they have a major sponsor drop out of champs or something like that. This means that none of the money you pay for your two districts actually stays in FiM

The $500 for additional play seems like a reasonable cost to attend an event in my mind (if only we could actually get extra plays in MI). Not sure if this money goes to FiM or HQ. I thought it was FiM but I’m sure someone else can tell you.

MSC is paid for via mostly sponsors - I thought a majority of the $4k goes to HQ as well, but again I can’t remember. That’s why we had sponsors as field names last year. Each of those companies paid several thousand dollars for those names (Dow, Consumers, DTE, and Ford). But MSC is not cheap. The flooring cost a lot to protect the turf field. The bleachers had to be brought in. Feeding enough volunteers to staff 4 fields and the rest of the venue.

In MI I don’t feel like our costs are too bad compared to regional teams, but I agree with the sentiments above. In an economic downturn we’re going to see teams fold - it’s not sustainable.

My understanding is that 3rd-and-up and out-of-district play money goes to the district hosting the event. 3rd play in Michigan? FiM. Go south of the border for a tune-up? IndianaFIRST gets your money. So on, so forth.

I’d also like to see which regionals/districts are most profitable for FIRST - in the sense that they have the lowest overall operations cost, and can as a result provide more money to FIRST for champs and other costs.

Answer the bigger ones. In a perfect world no money from FIRST goes to the regionals. There are some that run in the red though but to my knowledge there’s no public list of these.

I’m not going to list all the responses because they were very detailed, but thank you to everyone that responded to my queries. As usual, the truth resists simplicity. While the registration costs could be improved in my opinion, upon further examination, FIRST does seem to reasonably thrifty when compared to similar organizations.

There is no way you can compare the cost of an after-season event to one of the Regional or District events. Let me give you a parallel situation that may illustrate the problem.

What does it cost to educate a student for one year at your high school? Now you can figure the average cost by dividing the school district’s budget by the number of students and that gives you some cost figure. Now, given that budget, and that number of students, what does it cost the school system to educate ONE MORE STUDENT who moves into the district and attends your high school? Actually, it costs almost nothing! After all, the school is already built, the teachers, principals, counselors, custodians, etc. have all be hired and their salaries budgeted, the electric, heat, and water bills are all the same as before the additional student arrived, the maintenance on the building is the same, etc. etc. So adding one more student doesn’t cost the school system enough more to be noticed, and doesn’t change that average cost per student enough to worry about.

That’s what happens when you add an after-season event. Almost all the bills have already been paid, for developing the game, designing and building the field elements, designing and fabricating the field control system, running the FIRST enterprise, training key volunteers, producing kits of parts, fund raising,etc., etc., etc.

Now there are some very real expenses for after-season events, including arena rent and expenses, food for volunteers, rental of equipment such as generators, gaffers tape, etc., but the heavy lifting has already been done.

If you had to start from scratch like FIRST does each year, developing your own game, elements, control systems, and all the stuff needed for the event, your registration fees would be much higher for these events. In addition, a lot of the these events rely on local sponsorship to help keep costs low. Georgia’s GRITS event, for instance, has been fortunate to have UPS as our logistics sponsor. They provide a 53 ft. tractor-trailer and driver to move our field equipment to and from the venue. That one donation is HUGE toward keeping costs down.

In many ways, after-season events ride on the coat tails of the hard work FIRST has done getting the season’s competitions up and running.

As a volunteer for FIRST, Georgia FIRST and as a mentor who has helped start two successful teams, I fully understand the frustration teams have seeing all that money going away to places they can’t see or understand, but I’ve been to FIRST headquarters, have met many dedicated FIRST employees and know that they squeeze every penny that comes their way until it cries “Uncle.”

It might put things in perspective to see how much your school and school system spends on football or basketball each year. That might not make you feel much better, but it will be instructive.

With some areas of the US having multiple off-season events that are well run and regarded, I’ve always been surprised that we don’t see teams forgo the official competition season and just compete in a few off-season events. Obviously you lose the luster of being an official team and the perks that come with it and you’re giving up a chance to compete at one of the World Championships, but you would save thousands on registration and would be able to be free of the restrictions of bagging. Not something I would want a team I was involved with to pursue, but it seems like it would be attractive to those who feel FRC is overpriced and dislike the current robot time restrictions.

My back of the envelope calculations came up with over 35% of the Steamworks matches involving a MN team came in the off season. The high was a team with 85% (44 out of 52) during the off season.

As a district alum and mentor on a two-regional team… Yikes. I can’t imagine only having ten official matches in my season. Though it’s good that you have enough local offseasons to bolster that number. Unfortunately, many teams are not as lucky as either of us.