60 Days After World Drone Prix – Where’s the $1 Million?

Abandoned World Drone Prix Race Track 5.11.16

60 days after the landmark World Drone Prix and the $1 million in prize money still hasn’t been given out

On March 12, Banni UK (Luke Bannister) flew around an incredibly elaborate drone racing track in Dubai, complete with oscillating arms and LED lights, to grab a championship win at the first ever World Drone Prix (WDP). Hordes of international press crowded around as he took the top spot at the winner’s podium – and the $250,000 prize that went with it.

Below him in second place BrainDrain (Brian Morris) won $125,000, plus another $150,000 in other prizes. Team VS Mescheriakov won $150,000 in total for their record making laps. Another dozen pilots and their teams of pit crew, spotters, and technicians were awarded $6,250 to $75,000 for various prizes.

Except no one took any money home when they left Dubai.

It’s now 60 days after the countless headlines shouted about the 15-year old grand prize winner and the prize money is still somewhere in Dubai.

A number of pilots have emailed the WDP organization (the World Organization for Racing Drones or WORD), asking about a payment timetable. One pilot provided their contact number so that the WDP “finance department” could get in touch, but the phone never rang.

Two weeks ago a representative of the WDP emailed teams asking for a SWIFT code (a unique banking ID to help transfer money internationally). Puzzled – because banking information was already provided by all pilots during check-in at Dubai – one pilot still sent over their code the same day. They were told the prize funds would be transferred by May 2 at the latest. The transfer hasn’t happened yet.

Late delivery of prizes isn’t unexpected. The WORD, and the World Drone Prix, is an entirely new organization and event. The months leading up to the race itself were plagued by disorganization and confusion. The WDP representative who promised a week delivery of funds actually works directly for an asset management company in Dubai – the funds aren’t in a WORD bank account. All of this means delays are expected as the new organization finds its footing.

Late delivery of prizes is also an old story for drone racing pilots. Last November, the F3Expo in Georgia took 8 weeks to deliver on the prizes. The 2015 Drone Nationals took 90 days to finish paying all of the winning pilots, according to RotorSports. These were also inaugural events.

The problem with prizes can also come from the way an event is financially structured. An organization might have cash on hand to pay for upfront production costs. The World Drone Prix itself had funds available to reimburse travel expenses for the 32 invited teams that pre-qualified for the race. But money for prizes might only come in after an events happens from ticket sales, or as sponsors and investors come on board for the next race. In WDP’s case the funds come directly from the Dubai government with no input from their partners or outside groups. This leaves pilots waiting with no options.

Not all big inaugural events had problems delivering on prizes. The Xtreme Drone Circuit (XDC) gave the $10,000 in prize money to the winners soon after they won, both last year and in January for XDC_2. The MultiGP 20125 Championship had physical cash on hand to reward the fastest pilots.

An accurate timetable is needed if drone racing is going to support full time pilots.

This is an important issue for the future of the sport. Professional pilots need to know when they’re going to be paid. And no pilot can afford the financial risk of being a professional drone racer yet. Pilots have had to stretch vacation days or switch jobs to something that accommodates long racing weekends. Some well-known pilots chose not to even attend the World Drone Prix because of work commitments.

We hope this year will be the one that gives both audiences and pilots the experience they deserve. Drone racing events aren’t a wild unknown anymore. They can be organized and wildly successful. And perhaps just as importantly, big name sponsors like Mountain Dew won’t stay in drone racing if all they get is bad publicity.

Representatives from the World Drone Prix have not commented by publishing time.

Correction: 2015 Drone Nationals took 90 days to finish paying the pilots, not 6 months as originally stated. All of IDRA/RotorSports races since then have paid out pilots right after the event.

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