Satellite broadcaster Sky has sunk $1m into the Drone Racing League (DRL) to bring competitive drone racing into our living rooms. The fledgling sport pits the four rotor-bladed quadcopters, which average just 25cm in length, in a race to fly around an obstacle course at speeds of up to 90 mph.
Controlling these speed-machines are the drone racers – “mainly men who sit in a control booth, obscured behind their first-person-view goggles” with silly names like FlyingBear and Spaztik (“yes, Spaztik”), says Gavin Haynes, in The Guardian. Who knows? Perhaps they will follow in the footsteps of other sporting greats into our living rooms as household names.
Viewers get to experience all the thrills through “first person-view” drone-mounted cameras. The DRL likes to have a “grungy, urbex – urban exploration – feel” to its tracks, notes Haynes. Its first race was in February in the Hard Rock stadium, better known as the home of the Miami Dolphins American football team.
The five races, including a winner-takes-all championship, which makes up the DRL 2016 season will be covered by Sky in ten one-hour programmes. “This is a great chance to put something out there so people can get familiar with it”, says DRL founder and chief executive Nicholas Horbaczewski, whose aim is to create a global franchise.
Media investment in drone racing is all part of a drive to grab the attention of the hard-to-reach young, male viewer, says Christopher Palmeri on Bloomberg.com. A million dollars is a snip compared to the $8bn that John Malone’s Liberty Media recently splashed out on Formula One. Then there’s the $4bn that talent agency WME-IMG paid for mixed-martial arts UFC league in July.
Will Sky’s gamble pay off? Not if the BBC’s admittedly tame exploration of drone racing is anything to go by, says Laura Wagner on Slate.com. In February, the Beeb launched a children’s show called Airmageddon, which featured slower drones and youthful pilots who “weren’t very good”. But while defining what is and isn’t sport is becoming increasingly tricky to define, one thing is for certain. “Drones are inherently cool.”