The International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) has announced a multi-year, international media distribution deal with ESPN.
IDRA is on a roll. Following the news of the IDRA and RotorSports merger last week, today’s news is an even bigger partnership. This deal brings drone racing to the worldwide leader in sports, ESPN.
The first IDRA event to be broadcast by ESPN will be the 2016 U.S. National Drone Racing Championships, being held in New York City from August 5th to the 7th. The second event will be the 2016 Drone World Championships taking place in Hawaii this October. These are the flagship events for IDRA, not to mention being two of the most hotly anticipated drone racing events this year.
Both events will be streamed live on ESPN3, with an hour long TV special airing later on an ESPN network.
“Because everyone can experience the thrill of racing as if they were sitting in the drone cockpit, the sport is skyrocketing,”says Dr. Scot Refsland, Chairman of the IDRA. “To go from a first ever, US national drone race to partnering with ESPN for international distribution in eight months is truly a sign of great things ahead.”
Drone racing is currently seeing an unprecedented rise in popularity and is poised to become the next behemoth racing sport alongside NASCAR and Formula 1.
This was a major achievement for the IDRA team and it was a goal envisioned from the start. In Refsland’s view, “If we got ESPN and Red Bull interested then we knew the sport had arrived.” One down.
The World Drone Prix 2016, where IDRA were consulting producers, was a major factor in sealing the ESPN broadcast deal. The Dubai race was the first professional live drone race that had a lot of money behind it. Despite early stumbles, WDP16 proved live drone racing was viable as sports entertainment. “It made our phone ring,” quipped Refsland.
ESPN is a huge win for the drone racing sport, but not every drone racing fan will see the benefits. The platform is notoriously protective of the content it airs.
“That was a tough one for us to think about long and hard. Right now most of the pilots are all grassroots and they’re all used to looking at it being streamed on a free platform (YouTube, Twitch, etc),” said Refsland.
But putting IDRA events onto the ESPN platform will potentially put drone racing into 100 million homes in the US , and another 21 million on college campuses and military bases, at no cost to the viewer. Not to mention the promotional power of ESPN with 40+ millions of people that can be reached on Facebook and Twitter alone. On the international stage, there are an additional tens of millions of viewers.
“Team France or Team UK will be able to watch their pilots compete at the Drone Worlds from their local pub,” said Refsland, “A very Olympic feel.”
What if you’re one of the unlucky fans that has to bite this bullet for the growth of the sport? Not all of IDRA races will be shown on ESPN. Each race will be looked at separately to determine the best distribution channel. This race can go on ESPN, this one on AirVuz, and on and on. Not to mention various pilots’ own broadcasts. And new media will always take priority.
“We’re very much interested in exploring what the next generation of broadcasting looks like… 360 degree view, more immersive VR for the audience, and augmented reality all have potential,” said Refsland, “It’s still early days.”
And it’s still the early days for qualifying for the U.S. and World Championships and, perhaps, to appear on ESPN. The next U.S. Nationals qualifier is the North American Cup – West on May 27. You can see more information and other events on idra.co