It wasn’t that long ago that drone racing was nothing more than a 30-second, fuzzy clip on YouTube featuring a few French guys in a forest. On the one hand, it was clear that they had too much time on their hands, but on the other, there was a sneaking suspicion that they might just be onto something. It turns out they were.
Liberated by FPV technology, it didn’t take keen pilots long to organize their own underground races. Abandoned warehouses were turned into tracks, fields into obstacle courses and parking lots into places where guys and girls would get together to race in the shadows. It was a bit like Fight Club, but instead of unnecessary violence there was just a mild frustration at battery capacities and ropey aerial reception.
Old school drone racing
Since those early days, FPV racing has gone from rags to riches. Professional bodies have begun to form, each claiming to be the global international authority and world leader on all things drone racing. Pilots are starting to realize that they could quit the day job and race full-time. Drones are getting faster, FPV systems more sophisticated, tracks are getting more imaginative – it’s no wonder that drone racing has been attracting the mainstream media.
The problem with drone racing has never been that it’s not fun or exciting enough. The issue has been how to transfer that excitement to spectators – how to make a first person view sport accessible and enjoyable to people on the sidelines. This has always been the major barrier to creating a buzz around the sport from a spectator point of view. Only once this had been solved could broadcasters come along and start pushing the sport into the mainstream.
In all honesty, the spectator-unfriendly nature of drone racing remains a significant problem. But one organization in particular has done more than any other to put things right: The Drone Racing League. DRL has been leading the way for some time in terms of race quality, cinematography and technical capability. Instead of streaming events live, the team takes the time to edit together episodes to make for a more slick spectator experience. They also include pilot interviews and fpv footage.
But after a promising pair of early races, everything went quiet. We were expecting a series to play out in full online, but instead we got silence. I even interviewed one of the pilots before a big race, which then was never broadcast. It was all very mysterious.
Now we know why.
DRL has just signed massive broadcasting deals with major sports networks across the globe. On top of that, the company has finalized over $12 million in first-round investments. Not bad for a sport that hasn’t even taken off properly yet. Clearly, plenty of people in the media business see huge potential. And given the rise of similar trends, such as eSports, it’s not hard to understand why.
Drone Racing League coming to a screen near you
So what’s the deal? Is drone racing coming to a TV screen near you? The answer is yes, absolutely. DRL has signed media agreements with three huge sports broadcast companies, including ESPN (North, South and Central America and the Caribbean), Sky (UK and Ireland) and 7Sports (Europe). For the first season, DRL will air as ten, one-hour episodes. The entire 2016 DRL season covers five races, including a winner-takes-all world championship to crown the best drone pilot.
“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 Nicholas Horbaczewski.
“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.”
For many, it might seem that this sport has suddenly sprung up from nowhere, but that’s not really the case. Plenty of organizations have formed and held some pretty major competitions. A British teenager won a six-figure prize at a competition in Dubai earlier this year at the ‘World Drone Prix’, and the International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) has also signed a multi-year deal with broadcaster ESPN.
With all this new media coverage drone racing is about to get a whole lot of exposure. The kind of exposure that could spark off the fpv craze once and for all. And with DRL involved, you can bet that the racing is only going to get faster, better and more intense. Perhaps a few years from now the drone pilots of today will be household names.