ESPN has bit the bullet and officially dubbed drone racing a sport, if the sport network’s latest deal is any indication. Under this deal, ESPN will be the first network to broadcast competitive drone racing on television, validating drone racing as a legitimate competitive sport. The inaugural televised drone race will be the 2016 National Drone Racing Championship taking place on Governors Island in New York City from August 5-7.
This deal places a lot of faith into the slowly growing popularity and fandom surrounding drone racing, which still remains a relatively niche sport. ESPN hopes to turn drone racing into something similar to NASCAR and the mania that surrounds it. NASCAR has proven a widely popular sport despite the lack of athleticism it takes, and there’s even less involved in drone racing. Despite this, the go-to sporting network sees potential in an immersive sport like drone racing. The network will employ looks into the goggles drone pilots use during races, giving viewers a “drone’s eye view” of the race as it’s happening. They can access this immersive point of view either on a screen or through their own pair of goggles, granting them a flying sensation as if they were the drones themselves.
Drone racing has steadily been acquiring groups and organizations, effectively turning it into a small, organized sport in a matter of just a few short years. There are drone racing leagues worldwide, and each has their eye set on becoming the world’s premiere drone racing group. ESPN’s sponsorship of these races and competitions could help build fan bases around these leagues, lending credibility and interest into which country has the best drone racers in the world. The network has teamed with the International Drone Racing Association to televise drone races, a first for a sporting organization striking a multi-year broadcast distribution deal with a sports broadcaster.
This deal enables ESPN to be the pioneering network that put all its eggs in the basket of this infant sport, helping build it from the ground up, hopefully into something that begins to captivate more and more people. That sort of power and influence in cultivating a new competitive sport and having a hand in knighting a preeminent drone league is no doubt an attractive prospect for the network. ESPN has been struggling in recent years with viewership and subscribers, so if their exclusive rights to broadcast drone racing take off, it could rectify and even reverse this trend for the fledgling network. And to keep up with the times, ESPN also has plans to live stream the 2016 World Racing Championship in October in order to reach drone racing enthusiasts around the world.