Eurosport to feature FPV Racing Soon
Since the U.S. Drone Racing Nationals were broadcast by ESPN on September 18th, the emerging sport’s potential TV audience has grown substantially after being backed by the big British broadcaster, Sky, and German channel ProSiebenSat1. Apart from bringing the sport’s only professional league to European screens, the deals represent a boost for the league’s finances. Sky has agreed to plunge $1 million dollars into DRL from the get-go.
The conquest of Europe looks unlikely to stop there. Eurosport – the continent’s major sports media group, with 228 million subscribers – has stated publicly that it intends to pay more attention to drone racing and test its audience’s response to it. As the group is owned by Discovery – the same corporation which owns ESPN, it seems highly likely that the DRL will be the league chosen to present to European fans.
And that’s not all. In what seems to be a somewhat premature move, MGM has signed a partnership with the league to create a reality series based around the top pilots. If it proves to be popular, it could be a masterstroke both for the media group and the DRL. That caveat needs to be mentioned, considering the broadcast audience for drone racing remains remarkably small when compared with major crowd-pulling sports such as NFL.
The Drone Nationals – although much anticipated among fans – attracted a mere 223,000 viewers, according to independent measurements. That’s a drop in the pond when set alongside the 13 million that tune in for Monday Night Football during the NFL season. Nonetheless, it may be unfair to compare an emerging sport with a global giant that has been on our screens since 1939. A fairer comparison might be made with the so-called ‘e-sports’ – live computer gaming which has steadily gained a niche audience over the last decade. In this match, DRL does pretty well. Turner Sports’ E-League averaged viewing figures of just over 260,000 in its first season last year.
In fact, drone racing looks increasingly well-positioned to make the jump from niche sport to the big time. It has taken e-sports a full decade to get to where it is now in terms of global audience. Drone racing is almost matching it for viewing figures in its first year. Not only that, there is widespread corporate interest in the DRL brand and the sport as a whole:
ESPN’s arrangement with the DRL sees the network share ad revenue, rather than paying a fixed fee. This ensures that the league’s interests are in tandem with those of the network – it could likely prevent the sport from being drowned in advertising, something that the major sports are often accused of.
DRL representatives are also in multi-million dollar talks with potential partners over a broad range of markets, according to inside sources. With major investment already secured from the likes of Sky and RSE Ventures, which owns Miami Dolphins, plus various international media moguls, the league looks well equipped to continue striking winning deals. After securing $12 million plus in its first year, it’s pretty certain that investment for 2016 will turn out to be significantly higher.
Fox Sports, although known to be closely following the development of the sport, has yet to throw in with any particular league. This could be partly down to doubts expressed over the popularity of races which are broadcast with a slight delay for optimal editing. Daniel Glantz, head of sponsorship at AIG, which has previously sponsored Drone Sports Association events, was reported by Reuters as suggesting that fans won’t accept such delays.
Whether that is true or not – DRL CEO Nicholas Horbaczewski unsurprisingly disagrees – it seems clear that any decisions made regarding broadcast editing of the sport will be dictated by the commercial needs of the swarm of broadcasters and investors, which have their own interests in the inexorable rise of drone racing.
It’s not hard to imagine that, a decade from now, a new generation of drone racing fans could spend their time discussing their favorite drone reality stars, exchanging trading cards and counting down the time until they can sit around the TV with their friends to catch the big race of the week.
(Photos by DRL / YouTube)