Get ready to see drones on your SportsCenter highlights this fall. As part of a new multi-year agreement, ESPN is one of three major media companies set to air the 2016 Drone Racing League (DRL) season this fall.
Along with ESPN, U.K. satellite-TV provider Sky and Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1 Media will air 10 one-hour episodes chronicling the five first-person-view (FPV) drone races of the DRL season featuring 25 drone pilots racing to become the DRL 2016 World Champion. ESPN will give its viewers a crash course on the sport of drone racing by airing a special Intro to Drone Racing League on Thursday at 11 p.m. EST on ESPN2. Seven of the 10 episodes will air on ESPN2 and the two-episode championship race and the regular-season finale will air on ESPN. Each race will include six drone pilots racing in custom-designed DRL Racer 2 drones in abandoned malls and NFL stadiums at a max speed of 80 mph.
All of the races, with the exception of the championship race, have already occurred. The season begins airing on October 23 at 10 p.m. with the first race taking place in the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock stadium. The DRL season will air in the midst of the start of the NBA season and the second half of the NFL season. None of the episodes air on the same day as any of the more than 100 NBA games ESPN is set to televise, so the drone races will not have to worry about competing with Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors for viewers. Five of the episodes air the same day as NBC’s coverage of five races from the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, but none at the same time slot.
Dedicating airtime to an emerging event that a lot of people do not consider a sport is risky and ESPN’s success with drone racing is unclear. Last August, ESPN streamed the three-day 2016 U.S. National Drone Racing Championship held by the Drone Racing Association (DRA) in New York City on Governors Island on ESPN3, before airing the races in one-hour specials on ESPN. While ESPN did not provide viewership data for the event on ESPN when contacted by Digital Trends, none of the one-hour specials ranked in the Top 100 cable shows ratings for either of the three days.
These partnerships are putting drone racing in more than just your television. Sky will not only air the episodes on its newly created Sky Sports Mix channel but will also work with DRL and marketing company London & Partners to bring a drone race to “an iconic venue in London” in 2017, according to the press release. 7Sports, a subsidiary of ProSiebenSat.1 Media, will bring the first professional drone race to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in 2017. Both will also invest in DRL with Sky contributing $1 million.
With ESPN already having a multi-year agreement the DRA, the addition of DRL means that toy you got for Christmas could get you airtime alongside Tom Brady.