Drone Racing Nationals Attracts 150 Competitors From Around the World

Recent years have seen the inevitable rise in popularity of rotorcopters in sports. From the first enthusiasts racing their drones around parks and woodland, the sport has spawned a number of national and international racing organizations, which are now vying to become top dog in a multimillion-dollar industry.

The two words on everyone’s lips are “next” and “Nascar” – the belief that drone racing is destined to emulate the rise of another sport that was once long-ignored by sponsors and media, but which now competes for airtime and sponsorship with the biggest sports of all.

The biggest players in drone racing to date are the International Drone Racing Association (IDRA), the Drone Racing League (DRL) and the Drone Sports Association (DSA). Of these, the DRA has been reported to have landed $8 million from companies including RSE Ventures, towards helping it launch a new drone racing league, the DR1 Racing Series, to be broadcast live later this month on the internet media platform Twitch.

The DR1 Racing Series itself has secured the sponsorship of Mountain Dew – a name long associated with extreme sports – and is looking to foment a relationship which will take the league to a dominant position in terms of drone racing as a spectatorship sport.

DR1 faces stiff and established competition, however, in the form of the DSA, which, earlier this month, held its showcase event in New York City. Broadcast on ESPN from Governor’s Island, the National Drone Racing Championship showcased 150 competitors from around the world, competing for $50,000 prize money. To ensure only the most highly-skilled pilots made it into the competition, qualifying rounds held in twenty different regions saw to it that almost 90% of those who entered were eliminated.

Aside from having pulled off what must be seen as a major coup in the burgeoning sport by striking a broadcast deal with ESPN, the DSA received further backing for the event from action camera manufacturer GoPro in what constitutes a sponsorship match made in heaven, as the drone’s eye view, broadcast to the world, showcased the company’s technology. The same views, captured by on-board cameras, are beamed directly to the drone pilots, who, through goggles and a controller, weave and jostle for position around a 3D obstacle course. Skill, it seems, take precedence over speed, as the course is specifically designed to stop the drones from flying at over 60mph, when many of them have top speeds of over 100mph.

It’s not just GoPro that is putting its muscle behind the DSA either – AIG and Ernst & Young are among a growing list of major sponsors and investors from the world of business and finance that have spotted the potential of drone racing as a spectator sport. In a DSA press release, covered by Forbes magazine, AIG spokesman Jeremy Johnson put the company’s interest down to the fact that they expect drones to have a transformative effect on the operations of many industries – involvement helps them keep their fingers closer to the pulse. Ernst & Young spokesman Keith Strier was also reported as having said that drone racing presents a unique opportunity to capitalize in a number of areas, from streaming to virtual reality.

DR1 and IDRA will face further pressure to keep up later in the year, as the DSA hosts international championships in Hawaii in the hope of gaining further major sponsorship deals. Forbes reported Dr. Scot Refsland, Chairman of the DSA, as saying that the investment from major brands such as ESPN, Ernst & Young, AIG and GoPro was already an ‘incredible testament’ to the growth of drone racing.

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