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Drone Racing Poised for Major Expansion with Network TV and Livestreaming Deals

3 Apr, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Don’t touch that dial. Drone racing, having conquered the university scene (there is a full-fledged Collegiate Drone Racing Association) has landed coverage deals with TV as well as one to livestream the action on social media. No kidding.

A new deal inked recently by the Drone Racing League will allow all competitive events to be broadcast across NBC, NBC Sports – and Twitter. That adds up to 44 hours of coverage in each of the next two seasons.

And that spells across-the-board growth for drone sports as a whole. Event owners can expect more visibility to result in more interest, and in more participants coming into the sport.

According to Sports Pro Media, under the terms of the new contracts, the three entities will air the entire 2019 DRL Allianz World Championship season, beginning with the league’s season four launch in the first week of August.

NBC replaces ESPN as the DRL’s US broadcast partner; NBC, according to the article, will slot the coverage in alongside an existing motorsports programming line-up that also includes Nascar, Indycar and Pro Motocross. (Twitter, meanwhile, will show professional drone racing for the first time, showcasing the DRL to a potential audience of 47 million U.S. users.)

Sports Pro additionally notes, “the new deals continue the DRL’s shift from linear TV to digital platforms, and come in the wake of a recent three-year partnership with Youku, one of the largest streaming networks in China.”

According to Adweek, the new agreement gave Chinese fans access to the 2016-18 Allianz World Championship Seasons via Youku’s video-on-demand platforms, in first-person view format and DRL. Youku also said they would look to add Chinese pilots to the competitions via a private tryout race in the U.S. for 2019 and a livestreamed esports tournament on the DRL Simulator for 2020.

And there’s no lack of viewers. DRL estimates indicate that more than 57 million fans have tuned in across the league’s first three seasons, which were exclusively broadcast on linear channels. When events come to Twitter, the action will be livestreamed via @DroneRaceLeague.

There’s plenty of money in drone racing, too. As Red Bull noted toward the end of 2018, when  the King Abdullah Economic City arena in Jeddah was hosting the DRL finals, 3,000 fans headed to the arena and millions tuned in on television thanks to the 2018 edition being broadcast in 90 countries around the world, including ESPN.

Let that sink in for a minute. Millions of viewers in 90 countries. Watching drone racing.

And, Red Bull noted, the venues that host these events are becoming ever more specialized:

“Drone racing settings vary from the traditional wide-open field, to the enclosed yet obstacle ridden course. Usually, professional courses call for supreme evasion tactics as racers dodge and duck a number of obstacles and pitfalls. Obstacles come in many shapes and sizes, including different gates, towers, ladders, and hoops.

Some racers are better at acclimating to new racing environments than others. Over time, unique courses eventually develop reputations for having standout features, such as sharp turns. Although speed ultimately decides the winner of each event, certain elements of every course call for a slower approach, such as chicanes. Some courses focus primarily on speed, whereas others are considerably more technical. A good mix of both is said to be the best option for developing a well-rounded skill-set as a drone pilot.”

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