There was a time when FPV drone racing was little more than a YouTube phenomenon. At one point it was just a few French guys flying around a forest. From there it progressed to parking lots and abandoned warehouses, before a hardcore community began to spring up all over the world and get organized. It’s a history more easily counted in months than in years, but in no time at all drone racing has gone from rags to riches – it’s officially hit the big time.
2016 will go down as the turning point for a sport that looked like it might be destined to hover on the fringes of the mainstream. Just as the recreational drone industry has become a widely accepted part of consumer technology, racing is no longer something that your average guy in the street hasn’t heard of. More than that, the sport is reaching further than many would have expected.
Some people are definitely putting their money where their mouths are and backing fpv racing to take off, considering the ton of money that’s been pumped into drone racing in the past few days. On top of an announcement of international broadcasting deals, the Drone Racing League (DRL) finalized a massive $12million worth of investment to date. If that’s not faith in the product, we don’t know what is. And the use of ‘product’ is really deliberate here. From what we saw of the opening races, the team at DRL has managed to create an entire experience, not just host races. Yes, the tracks are incredible and the drones and radio technology are proprietary, but the most impressive thing about DRL is that it’s made watching drones race a legitimate spectator sport like any other.
The format of the DRL series, to be broadcast on ESPN (North, South and Central America and the Caribbean), Sky (UK and Ireland) and 7Sports (Europe) is that of a tightly edited post-production. Instead of standing around in the stadium waiting for the next race to start, the action is relentless: one second you’re watching from the point of view of the leader, and the next the view has switched to an outside camera, a close-up of a downed pilot or the chasing pack. This sense of immersion, combined with the imaginative, challenging tracks, is a recipe for spectator satisfaction. People all over the world are going to tune in, perhaps on purpose or perhaps by chance, and be drawn in just like they would when watching any other sport.
DRL’s deal is certainly a landmark move for the drone racing community, but honorable mentions also have to be given to the International Drone Racing Association (IRDA) and the outrageous Drone Grand Prix in Dubai, in which a 15-year old from the UK led a team to a $250,000 prize. Both have done much to increase the reputation of the sport, and the IDRA was actually the first organization to win a broadcasting deal – also rolling with ESPN.
“This is an incredibly exciting day for DRL. Our team has worked tirelessly to develop the technology, racecourses, and sporting rules needed to deliver the most elite, competitive, and thrilling drone racing league on the planet. We can’t wait to share it with fans around the world,” said DRL CEO and Founder Nicholas Horbaczewski.
He also understands just how lucrative a global fanbase could be for the sport. “Having distribution and strategic agreements with ESPN, Sky and 7Sports will bring DRL to tens of millions of viewers around the globe while reflecting a collective commitment to DRL from the world’s best sport broadcasting companies. Our partnership with MGM Television, led with the keen eye and creativity of Mark Burnett and his team, will introduce new audiences to the sport. With their expertise and our industry-leading technology, media production and development of the best competitive racing, we believe we can truly grow a global franchise around this futuristic, high-speed racing sport.”
Where is the sport going?
In short, anywhere it wants to go. The rise of e-Sports is a perfect example of how a small but passionate fanbase can grow exponentially. It’s also proved that there’s a willingness to harness the latest in technology for our entertainment on a huge scale. And when you think about it, drone racing has all the ingredients of a successful sport: high-speed drama, unpredictability, tension, crashes!
Broadcasting deals such as DRL’s are only going to expose it ot a wider audience and, who knows, it may not be too long before professional pilots are household names like any other sports star.