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Can DroneCenter be Next? UAV Racing Coming to ESPN

20 Apr, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

It was only a matter of time.

ESPN, which so recently noted that it would be covering e-sports with the same fervor it covers baseball, basketball, football and so on, is jumping on the drone racing bandwagon.

According to CNBC, the International Drone Racing Association released a statement that it had signed a multi-year deal with ESPN to bring the sport to the network.

"We look forward to providing drone racing fans a larger platform to access this exciting world," Matthew Volk, director of programming and acquisitions for ESPN, said in the CNBC article. "Drone racing is an opportunity to reach and connect with a growing and passionate audience."

ESPN's first broadcast of an IDRA event will take place in August. The 2016 U.S. National Drone Racing Championships crowns the fastest drone pilot in the country and will be held on Governors Island in New York City.

E-Commerce Times has noted that both the national championships and the 2016 World Drone Racing Championships in October will be streamed live on ESPN3, and each event will be televised as a one-hour special on the network.

Drones, sometimes referred to as UAVs, short for unmanned aerial vehicles, began as a niche market and have grown in popularity with consumers and sports enthusiasts. In March, a 15-year-old British teenager won the top prize of $250,000 at the World Drone Prix, a major drone racing tournament. Racers wear headgear that gives them first-person-view (FPV) abilities and allows them to pilot the drones as though they were in a cockpit.

Popularity has been explosive. The Federal Aviation Administration forecasts that hobbyist and commercial drone purchase will rise from 2.5 million in 2016 to 7 million in 2020.

"Drone racing gives anyone the ability to fly like a superhero," Dr. Scot Refsland, chairman of the IDRA, said in a statement. "Because everyone can experience the thrill of racing as if they were sitting in the drone cockpit, the sport is skyrocketing. 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."

The rise of drones’ popularity has included a corresponding number of pitfalls. Unfortunate incidents relating to sports events, such as one in which an unauthorized UAV crashed at the US Open, interrupting a tennis match in progress, and another time when a professional soccer match was disrupted, proved that regulation was necessary. The Federal Aviation Administration is hammering out preliminary rules for use of drones; however, in light of the rising popularity of racing, it’s unlikely anyone’s wings will be clipped any time soon.

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