ESPN and the International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) have announced a partnership to broadcast drone racing live on TV, starting with a three-day event in New York City this August. The sport is being positioned as the niche interest it still is — with the NYC championship streaming live on online channel ESPN3 before being edited down to a one-hour TV broadcast — but ESPN is certainly dreaming big about its future. “Drone racing is currently seeing an unprecedented rise in popularity,” said the network in a press release, “and is poised to become the next behemoth racing sport alongside NASCAR and Formula 1.”
Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen, but the sport is certainly building momentum. Drone racing leagues of all shapes and sizes have been springing up around the world, videos of talented pilots rack up big view counts on YouTube, and just this March, a British teenager won $250,000 after taking first place in the inaugural World Drone Prix in Dubai. Proponents of the sport say it’ll only get more exciting as video streaming improves, and 360-degree footage and VR headsets are added to the mix.
from national races to international distribution in eight months
It’s worth remembering that this deal is small in the wider context of ESPN, and the network is presumably taking a chance on drone racing in case it does just turn out to be the next big thing. (It’s made similar deals broadcasting e-sports events in the past too.) But still, it’s an impressive step forward for a sport that barely existed three years ago. As IDRA chairman Scot Refsland said in a press statement: “To go from a first ever, US national drone race to partnering with ESPN for international distribution in eight months is truly a sign of great things ahead.”
ESPN3 will stream IDRA’s 2016 U.S. National Drone Racing Championships from August 5th to the 7th in NYC, and the 2016 Drone World Championships in Hawaii this October.