The Drone Racing League (DRL) has recently announced investment and media/broadcast deals with ESPN, Sky in the UK, ProSiebenSat.1 in Germany, and MGM Television. What does this mean for drone racing?
The Drone Racing League (DRL) came out of a nearly 6-month long hibernation to announce this massive deal. Before this, DRL only had Level 0: Gates of Hell and Level 1: Miami Lights, along with some behind the scenes and other fluff videos, showing on their YouTube channel. With all of the attention being given to the DR1 Invitational, DSA and the Drone Nationals, and the MultiGP Championship, DRL had faded almost to obscurity. Many drone racing fans had given up completely on DRL.
“AAAAAAND DRL is dead. That was quick.” – Important YouTube comment
But DRL was far from dead. The entire time CEO Nick Horbaczewski and the DRL team had been in discussions with multiple networks to bring drone racing to the masses.
ESPN was at the top of the list. In talks with ESPN, Horbaczewski said that Drone Nationals, and their ESPN deal, came up in conversation, but it was entirely separate from the partnership DRL and ESPN were considering.
“ESPN had caught the drone racing bug and was very excited about what was going on.” – Nick Horbaczewski
The international side of this DRL announcement is also considered a separate partnership. Sky TV is fully aware of the big FPV scene in the UK, including the recent racing series premier at Insomnia 58, and wanted to be a part of it. DRL and Sky, like ESPN, will have a “close partnership” that includes a $1 million investment by Sky in DRL.
“We’re thrilled to be partnering with DRL to help drive this exciting new sport,” said Emma Lloyrd, group business director at Sky.
7Sports, the sports business cluster of ProSiebenSat.1 in Germany, is similarly partnered with DRl. These two international deals open up US drone racing to millions more potential fans in Europe. It also helps improve DRL’s claims of holding a world championship league. In 2016, we can expect to see DRL races held in the UK and in Germany.
The DRL episodes will air as 10, one-hour shows across these networks. All five 2016 races, including the Miami Lights race we’ve already seen, will be shown beginning October 23 on ESPN2 and ESPN. Full airing schedule at the bottom of this post.
The races will have six pilots at a time flying a custom designed and identical DRL drone, dubbed the DRL Racer 2, through thematic three-dimensional racecourses that have been compared to real life video games. DRL takes these courses seriously. For L.A.Pocalypse they contracted with a Hollywood set design company to polish the design and then construct the course.
DRL will also partner with MGM Television to develop “unscripted shows”, executive produced by prolific producer Mark Burnett. The shows will explore the world of DRL, its pilots and technology, allowing existing fans to get a deeper look at the league while bringing new fans to the sport. Current FPV fans will have a largely critical eye of any type of “reality” show after having years of unfiltered access to pilots and organizers through Periscope, Twitch, and other livestreaming platforms. Not to mention personally being at events.
And FPV fans have already been disappointed by this deal. The previously published videos of the Miami Lights race have been taken down. Right now, there aren’t any plans for viewing the races online after airing on the networks. Horbaczewski says it’s up to the networks to work out the digital viewing rights, but it is a priority.
Pilots have a far brighter perspective. With the recent investment round, $12 million in total, there’s enough money to actually start paying FPV pilots to race. DRL told pilots at a previously filmed race in New Jersey that the championship winner of the 2016 racing season will be signing a contract with DRL for the 2017 season worth six figures. Five other top finishing pilots will also be able to sign contracts to race in 2017 for a smaller sum.
Unless a competing league makes their own surprise announcement, these contract pilots will be the first true professional drone racers.
For many this can’t come soon enough. Big names like Nytfury (Shaun Taylor) and JET (Jordan Temkin) have already quit their job to focus on racing full time. And with this amount of money on the line the good natured drone races we’re often used to seeing may become far more cut-throat.
Horbaczewski is only focused on improving the drone racing scene as a whole. He never doubted the sport would get to this level. “I knew that if we made it real we would attract audiences. The excitement we had even from the initial pieces all got strong reactions,” he said.
This big announcement from DRL is just the beginning of a five-year, and beyond, plan. It’s a signal to other potential investors that drone racing isn’t just a fad. “These deals will help the industry as a whole by making it clear someone will be here for the long haul,” said Horbaczewski. The Drone Sports Association, MultiGP, and other leagues may find their flight lines just got a little bit clearer, thanks to DRL.
|Thu, Sep 15||11:00 p.m.||Intro to Drone Racing||ESPN2|
|Sun, Oct 23||9:00 p.m.||Intro to Drone Racing||ESPN2|
|10:00 p.m.||Race 1: Miami Lights||ESPN2|
|Thu, Oct 27||7:00 p.m.||Race 2, Episode 1: L.A.Pocalypse||ESPN2|
|Sun, Oct 30||10:00 p.m.||Race 2, Episode 2: L.A.Pocalypse||ESPN2|
|Thu, Nov 3||7:00 p.m.||Race 3, Episode 1: Project Manhattan||ESPN2|
|Sun, Nov 6||10:00 p.m.||Race 3, Episode 2: Project Manhattan||ESPN2|
|Thu, Nov 10||10:00 p.m.||Race 4, Episode 1: The Ohio Crash Site||ESPN2|
|Sun, Nov 13||10:00 p.m.||Race 4, Episode 2: The Ohio Crash Site||ESPN|
|Sun, Nov 20||9:00 p.m.||Race 5, Episode 1: DRL 2016 World Championship||ESPN|
|10:00 p.m.||Race 5, Episode 2: DRL 2016 World Championship||ESPN|