There’s A New Sport On The Block

By Adam Goulburn, PhD

It’s fair to say: people are really interested in drone racing. In fact, the numbers are staggering…11B press impressions, 40M views, coverage in 30+ countries and hundreds of thousands of social media followers…and that’s just for the company launch and a few short snippets of DRL’s (Drone Racing League) first race. And remember, DRL is just one piece of the overall drone racing pie. But interest can be fleeting and may not convert to true fandom. If any team is aware of this, it’s the DRL rockstar crew.

It’s an audacious mission to build a global sport overnight, but technology and global reach has accelerated the transition from startup to household name, from curiosity to superpower. In the past month alone, two established sports leagues were each purchased for many billions of dollars. One was 67 years old (Formula 1), the other was 23 years old (UFC). eSports, just a decade old, routinely packs stadiums once solely the dominion of basketball and hockey gladiators. And just as social media empires are becoming our new communication networks, gaming companies are becoming the new sporting powerhouses.

Drone racing IS the sport of the future

Drone racing has all the right ingredients. There is no other sport that bleeds between the digital and physical, that enables gamers to transition between the virtual and real. Pilots attest to being hooked when they put on FPV goggles for the first time, grab their flight control pads and realize that they are flying in the real world. With gaming, the entire planet — developed or developing world, male or female, 14- or 45-year-old — will become DRL’s draft combine. For this emerging sport, there’s a new reality on the horizon where our next real life motorsport champion will have honed their craft while playing a video game. That’s never happened before.

For DRL, building a sport from the ground up in 2016 means instant flexibility of how races are consumed. Streaming pilot feeds in HD will enable those at home to “fly” with the pilot of their choice (whether on TV or with their own VR headsets). Online streaming gaming platforms will enable aspiring pilots to compete against the best of the best. How do they make that vertical hairpin? Where do they accelerate and brake? Capturing real-time drone telemetry will give clues to the skills of racers. Race lines will matter, snap decisions will mean the difference between winning and losing by a microsecond. All the while being 100% relevant and amenable to traditional entertainment channels like TV and cable.

When watching the races, it’s easy to forget that just tracking these 80mph drones in is a feat in and of itself. And that’s the beauty of DRL. It’s a technology company, a gaming studio, an event producer, and a media production house all rolled into one. Know-how, IP and trade secrets cover everything from drone hardware, to mesh communication networks, to video and content capture. The team is lights out, driven, hungry, but most importantly they’re all having a ton of fun.

DRL’s CEO Nick Horbaczewski (left) and Director of Product Ryan Gury (right)

Last week, AEG, the world’s largest owner of sports teams and events, partnered up with the eSports company ESL. The sports entertainment world is changing quickly. I called DRL CEO Nick Horbaczewski to read a quote from an AEG senior exec: “We are sitting on what we think is the evolution of a new spectator sport…How many times in your lifetime can you say there’s a new spectator sport out there? I don’t think it’s happened in my lifetime.” Nick didn’t hesitate: “Wait till they hear about Drone Racing League”. The world is certainly hearing about drone racing and DRL now. Today we’re announcing global partnerships with ESPN, Sky Sports, Prosieben Sports and MGM Studios. It’s an incredible effort for a team of less than 20 people. And there’s a lot more to come. So buckle up. We’re about to find out whether drone racing as a sport can fly.