Drone Racing Association Takes Off with ESPN Deal

Fresh off a new agreement with the cable network, the International Drone Racing Association is ready to bring its sport to televisions and audiences around the world. Up first: this summer’s U.S. national championships.

The International Drone Racing Association signed a deal with ESPN last week, which the parties say will bring the sport of drone racing to the public.

IRDA Chairman Dr. Scot Refsland said the giant sports network “sees that we’re right on the cusp of some innovation…. [B]eing able to have sports broadcast in 99 million homes around the U.S. and [to] 24 million college students and military folks just as a baseline, that’s a pretty exciting thing.”

The multiyear, international media distribution deal will open up drone racing to a new audience as ESPN begins airing the races, starting with the 2016 U.S. National Drone Racing Championships in August. The New York City-based event, followed by the October 2016 World Drone Racing Championships, will be aired live on ESPN 3 and then covered as a one-hour special on the network.

“We look forward to providing drone racing fans a larger platform to access this exciting world,” Matthew Volk, ESPN director of programming and acquisitions, said in a statement. “Drone racing is an opportunity to reach and connect with a growing and passionate audience.”

This agreement not only affirms that drone flying is gaining popularity, but it also gives ESPN a chance to experiment with the audience’s viewing experience, Refsland said. Drone racing capitalizes on new technology as pilots navigate their devices through a virtual 3D race course—viewed using goggles—overlaid on an open, yet controlled, area.

“What’s even more interesting is that because drone racing has been built specifically as a 21st-century sport, and it’s being built with all of those virtual-reality and augmented-reality technologies at the same time, now we’re right at the threshold or spear tip of redefining broadcast,” he said.

IDRA—which launched in 2014 and for now serves as a loose affiliation of drone race coordinating bodies around the world—seeks to set standard rules for drone racing as well as promote the acceptable-use policies set by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Academy of Model Aeronautics among commercial drone flyers.

While the organization does not yet have a formal contract with the 40-some affiliate groups worldwide, it looks to “connect the dots between organizers because there’s no standard rules, there’s no standard what are the gates, what are the flags, what should the racing course look like, what do the judges look like, what are the categories,” Refsland said. “So that’s the discussion were facilitating between all the national organizers.”

IDRA held the first national championship in July 2015 at the California State Fair, but the publicity it will receive through the ESPN deal and the upcoming championships will provide the group with an even larger platform to carry out its goals of aligning drone racing organizations, demonstrating proper drone use, and informing the general public about the sport.

“Drone racing gives anyone the ability to fly like a superhero,” Refsland said in the release. “Because everyone can experience the thrill of racing as if they were sitting in the drone cockpit, the sport is skyrocketing. To go from a first-ever, U.S. national drone race to partnering with ESPN for international distribution in eight months is truly a sign of great things ahead.”

(via IDRA's Facebook page)

Alex Beall

By Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. MORE

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